- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 13, 2006

In its quest to lure more fans, Major League Soccer might implement what has become known as the “Beckham Rule.”

Named after English star David Beckham, who has hinted about playing in MLS, the rule would allow each MLS team to acquire a designated player — a world class star like Beckham, or Brazilian ace Ronaldo — signed outside the salary cap. As of now, MLS signs all players — not individual teams, and each team has a $1. 6 million team salary cap.

The “Beckham Rule,” which is backed by the MLS commissioner Don Garber, might become reality when the MLS owners discuss the issue at their annual meeting in Chicago on May 25.

Currently, big-name players in MLS, such as Landon Donovan ($900,000) and Freddy Adu ($500,000), have their regular team salaries supplemented with money from the league’s central fund. The “Beckham Rule” would allow individual team owners to spend their own cash on star players of their choosing. The owners of the cash-flushed New York Red Bulls are certainly behind the idea and have hinted about bringing Brazilian ace Ronaldo to MLS.

“You’ve got hard-core European soccer fans that are watching games on Fox Soccer Channel and are going to Manchester United and AC Milan games in New York, but aren’t coming to Red Bull games,” said Garber this week on a visit to RFK Stadium. “We need to have a higher quality of play, and perhaps in certain markets a star player will help us get there.”

Garber suggested that D.C. United didn’t need the “Beckham Rule” to draw fans.

“They’ve been able to figure out how to create that passionate relationship between the fans and the team without having to go out and just having to buy players,” Garber said. “It’s been the team. It’s been about Barra Brava [United fan club]. It’s been about great media support. In other markets it’s more difficult … We haven’t captured the hard core fan.”

United has averaged 17,216 for its four home games this season. The 2006 league average is 16,917.

Namoff in the middle

With United midfielder Ben Olsen away with the American World Cup team for the next two months, finding a replacement for the rugged defensive midfielder presents a challenge for coach Peter Nowak. Midfielder Clyde Simms is the obvious choice. But with Simms injured, Nowak went with defender Bryan Namoff in last week’s loss at the Colorado Rapids.

Normally a traditional defender, Namoff played well in the role of plugging up the holes in United’s midfield even though the team lost 2-1 on a stunning Rapids goal. It was Namoff’s first start of the season after battling a groin injury. Namoff hasn’t fully recovered from injuries.

“It’s a question of fighting through the pain,” said Namoff, a United fan favorite.

The extent of Namoff’s injuries remain unclear, but he receives rehab after each practice session.

“It’s related to my hernia surgery,” Namoff said. “Whether it’s a scar tissue that’s built up around the nerves, or it’s a deep strain in the groin muscle, I don’t know.”

Nowak never names his lineup until just before each game, so Namoff is not sure where he will play today against the visiting Kansas City Wizards. But he’s ready for the challenge after playing as a right-sided defender for five seasons.

“It’s definitely a new position and it’s not as comfortable where I have played in the right-back position,” Namoff said. “It’s something that you have to ease into and it’s a different mind-set where you’re taking a 360 degree approach, where before as in the right-back position, it was straight up and down.”

The dilemma for Namoff, who struggled with injuries last year — including hernia surgery — and competed in just 17 games, is that if he wins Olsen’s position, what happens when Olsen returns?

“That will be the question,” Namoff said. “I do have the versatility, which is an asset on this team … but when Benny comes back, I’ll be competing for a starting position in the back.”

Kansas City will be missing three of its best players — strikers Josh Wolff, Eddie Lewis and defender Jimmy Conrad — who are with the American World Cup team in Cary, N.C.

“When a team is missing its three top players, other guys that are getting a chance, get real hungry and if anything play harder,” said United midfielder Josh Gros. “This is the most important game of the year so far.”

The Wizards (4-1-1, 13 points) lead the Eastern Conference by two points over United (3-1-1, 11 pts.). A win tonight could give United the conference leadership.

Freedom news

Olympic and world champion Tiffany Roberts has joined the Washington Freedom. She will play for the Freedom in their first two home games May 20 and May 28, beginning with a game against the W-League’s Ottawa Fury on May 20 at the Maryland SoccerPlex in Germantown.

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