By Paul Gardner
No doubt you will all have been excited to find out that this season will mark another first for MLS: its first Australian player. Now there's progress
The club presenting us with this magnificent achievement is D.C. United, up till now known as a club that favors a skill-based game, and an attractive one at that.
Well, we'll see about that. New coach Curt Onalfo evidently has a rather eccentric method of pursuing that tradition. Since his arrival, the club has shed two pretty good Brazilians. Luciano Emilio,
who scored 41 goals in 83 games during his three seasons with D.C. has been ushered out. He will be replaced by the pioneering Australian -- Daniel Allsopp.
Now, the first thing to know
about Australian soccer is that it is relentlessly physical. There are Australians playing in many different countries, and almost without exception they are of the he-man persuasion.
most skillful Australian has been Harry Kewell. Then, maybe, Mark Viduka. After that, I can't think of anyone. I saw Kewell play way back in 1995, when he was on the Australian under-17 team. A nice
player. Alongside him on that team was a tall, gangly, powerful presence named ... Daniel Allsopp. Not much of a player
-- but he did score goals. In fact, he was the top scorer of that
under-17 World Cup tournament with five goals in four games.
Allsopp played as a target man, and the Australian idea of attacking soccer -- which didn't leave too much opportunity for
Kewell to shine -- was to get the ball as quickly and as often as possible to Allsopp. He did the rest. It worked well, if crudely -- until the Aussies ran into Brazil, who beat them 3-1 (goal by
Allsopp) and that sent the Aussies packing.
So I think I know what to expect from Allsopp. The sort of play that enabled him to do well in the crudity of the English lower divisions -- 39
goals in 102 games for Notts Co and 22 goals in 64 games with Hull City.
For that success to continue, D.C. United will have to play to Allsopp's strength. Literally. It will not be
pretty. It's worth mentioning that Allsopp's goalscoring activities in England occurred when he was much younger -- between the ages of 22 and 27. He is now 31. It is also worth noting the oddity that
Allsopp joins D.C. after an abrupt departure from a Qatari club, Al-Rayyan, with whom he signed a reported three-year contract only four months ago.
Despite his pretty consistent
goalscoring, Allsopp has been called up to the Australian national team only three times. A year ago he played against Indonesia in an Asian Cup game, after which he was publicly slammed by the
Socceroos' Dutch coach Pim Verbeek as being "absolutely hopeless."
No doubt a harsh criticism. I doubt Allsopp will be absolutely hopeless at D.C. But I also doubt -- in fact I'm quite
sure -- that he will not remind anyone of the Beautiful Game.
Replacing the skillful Luciano Emilio with a lumbering Aussie is not, unfortunately, the end of Onalfo's assault on the
Beautiful Game. Fred, another Brazilian, has been traded away. He suffers the ultimate insult for any real
soccer player in being swapped for a non-soccer player, a goalkeeper. Out goes Fred,
and back comes Troy Perkins, for his second stint at D.C. I remember his early error-laden days with D.C. quite well. Well enough to understand why D.C. let him go, but not well enough to understand
why they want him back.
Not to worry. We have now the absolutely standard and utterly banal gaff about building from the back and so on. Perkins, it seems, marks the beginning of a
reborn D.C.United. Hogwash. Goalkeepers have absolutely nothing to do with the style of a team, nothing at all. And it is for its style, its incomparable style, so rare in MLS, that I have always
admired D.C. United. Possibly GM Kevin Payne, the driving force who has made D.C. United the class act of MLS, has abandoned the idea of playing with style.
Because we are now being asked
to believe that the D.C. style will be upheld and continued by a goalkeeper and a 31-year-old Australian target man.
Am I missing the joke here?