- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 24, 2006

D.C. United midfielder Clyde Simms received more than a warm welcome in his first international competition with the U.S. national team in Panama last June. In fact, he got quite a hot one.

A cup of steaming coffee thrown from the raucous crowd inside Panama City’s Estadio Rommel Fernandez nearly struck Simms in the face as he emerged from the locker room prior to the game, welcoming the then 22-year-old to international soccer.

“It’s a little weird when you go somewhere and they tell you to stay in the hotel the whole time,” Simms said about his hostile greeting in Panama. “It was dangerous and I try to keep that story from my mom so she won’t worry. Although, I do like playing in front of loud fans.

But odd beginnings are rather common in Simms’ soccer career.

Even as a 5-year-old, Simms was not supposed to play soccer. His father wanted him to pick up a basketball, but Simms started kicking it instead.

From that moment, Simms exceled at the sport, playing two age groups above his division while growing up. He ultimately landed at East Carolina, where he was a three-year captain. He said the party atmosphere at ECU and the dwindling of his freshman teammates from 15 to four upon graduation forced him to focus on soccer.

But no matter how much Simms wanted to compete at a higher level, he never would have had the opportunity if the current U.S. national players had not been locked in a dispute over an expired collective bargaining agreement,

Simms was the only non-Major League Soccer player selected from a pool of more than 50 replacement players to fill in during World Cup qualifying in 2005. His performance with the Richmond Kickers of the United Soccer League’s First Division in 2004 had apparently caught the attention of U.S. national team coach Bruce Arena.

To Simms, playing during the regular players’ dispute was worth it.

“It was a no-brainer,” Simms said. “I didn’t even know the details of the strike. I just got a call saying I was on a list and even then I still didn’t think there was much of a chance. I got into camp and I was worried what others would think and how they would treat me, but I never heard anything negative.”

Although Simms only appeared in two games with the national squad, Arena spotted Simms’ rising talent and helped him land a contract with United.

After embracing a backup role with United in the 2005 season, Simms was set to get a chance as a starter this year while midfielder Ben Olsen trained with the U.S. team for the World Cup. While scrimmaging before his scheduled first start against the Colorado Rapids on May 6, Simms felt a piercing pain in his leg.

“It was so frustrating,” Simms said, staring into space, reliving the injury. “I had pulled my hamstring and I had never done that before. I just thought you could tape it up and go play, but I had to sit out two weeks. The only thing I could do was stay positive and I got to play eventually.”

Eventually, Simms made the lineup and in his seven starts with United, he has relished his role as a defensive midfielder. He also scored his first goal, a game winner, against the Chicago Fire on Wednesday night.

“[Simms] has been outstanding the last couple of games,” United coach Peter Nowak said. “He reads the game very well and he is trying to go forward. He gives us a good option up top.”

Nowak soon will have another option, as Olsen returns from his World Cup duty this week.

But, having shown what he can do for United, the relaxed Simms is taking his next hurdle in stride.

“Yeah,” he said as he rubbed his head. “Yeah, I could get used to this goal scoring thing.”

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