D.C. United keeps unearthing inexpensive talent in unexpected places. The latest discovery is John Wilson, a solid left-sided defender who joined the club in May from the minor United Soccer Leagues and has played in the team’s last six games, earning two assists.
“We work pretty hard behind the scenes to use all our contacts, and we keep an eye on the minor league players,” said United technical director Dave Kasper, who recently returned from a scouting trip to Argentina.
Wilson is the third player acquired this season who has made an immediate impact in the starting lineup for United. According to recent reports, all three players earn under $34,000, well below the league average of $75,000.
Midfielder Clyde Simms joined the club in February from the USL’s Richmond Kickers and landed a starting role. His play with United earned him a call-up to the U.S. national team.
Then Bobby Boswell, who failed to go in the MLS draft, joined United in March and surprisingly claimed the important central defensive role left absent when former captain Ryan Nelsen moved to England. Boswell’s play allowed the club to trade highly paid Mike Petke to Colorado.
And Wilson, an experienced veteran, has been able to fill in for injured starting defender Bryan Namoff. The 27-year old, a former forward at Clemson, brings something new to United’s backline with his attacking forays on the left flank.
“[Coach Peter Nowak] likes me to get into the flow of the game, to get up when I can and get around the back of the defense and make crosses,” Wilson said. “But first and foremost he wants me to defend.”
Although Wilson’s attacking runs have proved effective, his teammates need to fill the void left in back when he goes forward. Holes in United’s defense were evident in last week’s 1-0 win at Columbus.
“I have to work on my timing,” Wilson said.
Nowak has spoken to Wilson about his communications with fellow players.
“He is a solid defender and has made progress going forward,” Nowak said. “There are a number of things we need to clean up, and he knows about it.”
Though Wilson has spent much of his career in the USL, he did play three games for Kansas City in the Wizards’ 2000 MLS championship season. The Wizards play United at RFK Stadium tonight at 6, and Wilson is looking forward to going up against his old team.
“I learned a lot when I was there,” he said. “One of the reasons I’m still playing is because of [Wizards coach] Bob Gansler. When he released me, he told me I could play in MLS but I needed games, and the A-League [now USL] was the only place to do that as we had no reserve league like we have now.”
Wilson played plenty of games in the minor league, proving himself with the Charleston Battery (1999 to 2002) and the Rochester Raging Rhinos (2004) before catching the eye of United officials. Now the Seneca, S.C., native is getting the break he needed.
“He’s fast, keeps the ball well and tackles as hard as they come,” Boswell said. “Our communication is getting better.”
That communication will be vital tonight when United (6-5-4, 22 points) battles the Wizards (5-4-7, 22 points) for third place in the Eastern Conference. United beat the Wizards 3-2 at RFK in May.
Payne defends Freddy — United president Kevin Payne says Freddy Adu got a bad rap for his play in the U.S. under-20 team’s poor outing at the world championship in Holland last month and suggests under-20 coach Sigi Schmid didn’t use him right.
“The criticism of him after the U-20 championship was grossly unfair,” Payne said. “I’m not sure how you can blame a 16-year-old when a team goes out of a tournament like that, especially when that 16-year-old wasn’t even put in a position within the team concept on the field where he was expected to be the difference-maker.”
Adu said Schmid gave him a free role on the field.
“Even though I was playing more like a left-outside, he told me just to go at people and be free,” Adu said. “But he also told me that when you have that freedom, it comes with responsibility, so you can’t abuse it. Every time you get the ball and try and beat five guys and then lose it, you just can’t stop playing. You have to track back and help the team out.”
U.S. teams — The men’s national team plays Canada today in the second game of Gold Cup group play in Seattle. The team downed Cuba 4-1 on Thursday, with United star Santino Quaranta making his international debut and getting an assist.