For anyone keeping tabs on D.C. United, attention always seems to gravitate in certain directions.
Fans and journalists alike ogle over the scintillating creativity of five-time MLS All-Star Dwayne De Rosario and heap praise on a rejuvenated attack buoyed by promising young stars such as Andy Najar and Chris Pontius. They salivate over the compelling comeback of leading scorer Charlie Davies while admiring Ben Olsen’s seamless transition from player to coach.
With so many story lines to go around, it might seem odd that the most consistent mainstay on United’s roster so rarely appears in the spotlight. Veteran midfielder Clyde Simms — whose seven seasons with D.C. make him the team’s longest-tenured player — does not fall into the headline-grabbing mold. An industrious defensive midfielder, Simms has notched only three goals and seven assists in 168 regular- season appearances for United.
Yet when healthy, Simms has proved to be one of the squad’s most reliable assets, something exemplified by his team-leading 58 starts in 2008 and 2009. Injuries have hampered that consistency the past two seasons, as a sports hernia limited him to 20 appearances in 2010 and a right calf strain kept him out of three contests earlier this season.
Simms’ status as an MLS regular was by no means a predestined formality. He spent his first pro season with the Richmond Kickers in the USL before arriving in D.C. in 2005. His play during that rookie year was intermittent, a humbling experience he asserts made him a better player.
“It’s been a long journey, but it happened kind of quick,” Simms said. “I think it’s good that I wasn’t pressured to play a lot my first couple years. I came to a really good team and was able to take my time and get a lot of training and learn from some really good players. I think that ultimately helped my game.”
One of those players was Olsen, who spent the latter part of his career in a defensive midfield role similar to the one currently held by Simms. Olsen and Simms became friends during their five seasons as United teammates, even sharing adjoining lockers. Although Olsen’s new coaching position has changed the dynamic between the two, their relationship remains strong.
“It’s definitely different,” Simms said. “I knew it was going to be different. You’ve got to have that player-coach respect for one another. So the relationship is a little different now, but it’s still very good and I’m happy to be playing for him.”
Wednesday night Olsen and company shift their focus to the struggling New England Revolution (3-9-7), who are last place in the Eastern Conference. A win against their longtime rival would launch United (5-5-8) to fourth place in the contentious Eastern Conference table. Despite the Revolution’s 0-6-3 away record, a victory will be anything but automatic for a United side that hasn’t won at home since May 4.
“The one thing I know about New England is that when the chips are down they get fired up and come with a strong performance,” Olsen said. “If we’re not ready for a team that’s down on their luck and angry and very focused on battling and grinding out a result, then we’re going to be in trouble. It’s that simple. We’re in no position to take any team lightly in this league.”
In Simms’ eyes, a positive result Wednesday largely will hinge on the effort of United’s defense, which is coming off two consecutive shutouts. If Simms can continue to support the young back line behind him, a shutout home win that has eluded the club all year might be in store.
“We’ve got such a young team, and guys are getting to the point where they’re getting some games under their belt and learning from their mistakes,” Simms said. “We’ve definitely made a good amount of them early in the season. I think that’s helped us, and hopefully we can keep this streak going.”