- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 15, 2008

English players have not fared well with D.C. United, but that could change this season.

In the past, there were lackluster spells by Steve Guppy and Kasali Yinka Casal and Paul Gascoigne’s weeklong trial, which ended with United wisely sending the troubled midfielder home.

But United has a new English player in Dan Stratford, a supplemental draftee from West Virginia University who is earning good reviews and could challenge Clyde Simms for the starting defensive midfielder spot.

The 22-year-old native of London was a youth player with English Premier League club Fulham for three years but was released when he was 18 years old. While still looking to be signed by other English teams, Stratford was spotted by West Virginia at a trial and offered a scholarship.

It took him three months to decide to come to America.

“Once I came to West Virginia and saw the facilities and the setup, it was an easy decision and here I am 3½ years later with another chance to play professionally,” Stratford said. “Just being at university here has been a great experience.”

United coach Tom Soehn has been impressed with Stratford in the preseason.

“He’s done very well, and he has a good soccer mind,” Soehn said.

Stratford signed a senior developmental contract with United last week. That means he will earn about $31,000 in salary with a chance of breaking into United’s senior roster.

“He can distribute the ball and is a hard worker and not afraid to get into tackles,” United defender Marc Burch said. “He’s adjusting to our style of play. I don’t think he will start right away, but he’s a strong player and if we need a sub or another defensive midfielder he’ll be ready.”

Stratford has found some familiar faces at United. He played two seasons with second-year defender Devon McTavish with the Mountaineers and was roommates with rookie defender Pat Carroll for three years in college.

“Pat moved out in January and I was saying it was strange not having him around the place, and now I see him every day again,” Stratford said.

In many ways, Stratford said he is walking the path his father took.

His father was released at 18 after being a youth player with London club Crystal Palace. The elder Stratford then played non-league soccer with Sutton United and became a physical education teacher.

“Up till now, we followed very similar footsteps,” said Stratford, who is taking 19 credits on the way to his physical education degree. “Hopefully there will be a little change in the story, and I end up being a pro.”

Stratford is also excited about the possibility of playing against Los Angeles Galaxy star David Beckham.

“It would be something to remember because I watched a lot of him growing up, and I remember him in his prime playing for England and Manchester United,” Stratford said. “It’s funny because when I speak to friends back home and tell them that I’m playing in MLS, the first they say is that I’ll be playing against David Beckham.”

FA Cup upsets — It’s hard to believe, but three Championship (second tier) teams — Barnsley, Cardiff City and West Bromwich Albion — are in the FA semifinals, while Portsmouth is the only Premier League team left.

All of the marquee teams — Manchester United, Liverpool, Arsenal and Chelsea — are out of the world’s oldest soccer event.

Giant killer Barnsley, which dispatched Liverpool and Chelsea, now play Welsh club Cardiff in the semifinals. This is the first time since 1908 that three teams from outside of the top flight have reached the semifinals.

Barnsley last won the Cup in 1912, Cardiff in 1927, Albion in 1968 and Portsmouth in 1939. No team outside the top flight has won the Cup since 1980, when West Ham beat Arsenal. Since 1996, only Arsenal (four wins), Manchester United (three), Chelsea (three) and Liverpool (two) have won the Cup.

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