Can this be D.C. United?

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 for you.

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.

The 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?


12 comments about "Can this be D.C. United?".
  1. David Gerrity, January 22, 2010 at 9:05 a.m.

    The joke was that DC tied way to many games - so adding a target and a goalkeeper just might do the trick to get them in the playoffs...

  2. Doug Kieffer, January 22, 2010 at 10 a.m.

    How about the Fire? They look ready to embrace the Jogo Bonito. Paul, can they be your new favorite club?

  3. Futbol Genio, January 22, 2010 at 10:21 a.m.

    Spot on, Paul, with your commentary. I will say that Luciano lost some of his luster this year, as did Fred. D.C.: Always playing at top speed, and with Luciano as a target player, always waited for Moreno to give up the ball, as he worked though his achy back, and hamstring, and ankle. Playing second fiddle is a touchy proposition for any offensive player, let alone Luciano and Fred, both very good players. Luciano and Fred would have been better if Moreno took more pine breaks. He has become like Thierry Henry, somewhat indifferent to teammates. Great player, but he needs to understand that passing quick balls to Brazilians will make him great, even at 32. Holding on to the ball, with lots of games to play, just saps everyone's legs. Perkins can be the doubt about it. Young, and learning every day. Have faith....and come out and watch UPENN play this year

  4. Ian Plenderleith, January 22, 2010 at 10:48 a.m.

    Although this is hardly the signing to set the league on fire or lure the crowds to RFK, you're conveniently ignoring the signing of Cristian Castillo. It's questionable whether or not the signing of Allsopp necessarily means DC is abandoning its tradition of neat soccer for English lower-division long-ball tactics. You can have pretty approach play, but you still need someone to finish it off at the end, regardless of how the ball makes it into the box. Or maybe he's the big lad they chuck on with ten minutes left when they're a goal down. Allsopp's age and history don't exactly augur well, it's true, but I've never seen him play, and if he can consistently finish from six yards after a five-man passing move there'll be few who care whether he's from Brisbane or Brasilia.

  5. Tom Symonds, January 22, 2010 at 11:10 a.m.

    Paul, Paul - How could you forget TIM CAHILL of Everton or MARK SCHWARZER of Fulham in your list of top-flight Aussies?

  6. Joe Kee, January 22, 2010 at 11:15 a.m.

    As a DC United fan since the beginning I can say that it was time for Emilio's attitude to go. Fred, although tremendously talented, his contributions were debatable not to mention the fact that he seemed to be injured more often than not. Perkins replaces a keeper who was, quite possibly, a little bit crazy. For 2 years now DCU has floundered when they should have shined so changes were/are needed. Trust in Kevin Payne and Dave Kasper to rebuild in the DC tradition (as they have done a few times over now) and let Onalfo do his thing. More importantly, don't focus on one signing as the death of the DC United Tradition.

  7. Mike Gaire, January 22, 2010 at 12:12 p.m.

    I too was puzzled by Emilio's departure but was never that impressed with Fred, so I don't blame them for offloading him. Like you, I really don't see Troy Perkins as a future Friedel or Howard.
    Isn't there an Australian goalkeeper playing in the EPL? Schwartzer? Your right though, there has not been much of a flow of talent into the Soccer world from Australia.

  8. Brian Kraft, January 22, 2010 at 12:26 p.m.

    Scoring goals is no joke. Neither is preventing them. Since when does one slam a team for securing a first-rate goalkeeper?

    I always thought Raul Diaz Arce was largely devoid of soccer skills, but boy, could he finish! I doubt that Allsopp will be so successful here, but I like the idea of having a strong, tough striker up front. The boys can knock it around beautifully for 90 minutes, but all too often at DCU nobody is focused on the business at hand - putting the ball in the net. Let's see if this one can do it.

  9. James Froehlich, January 22, 2010 at 3:27 p.m.

    Another step sideways if not backwards. The use of the one dimensional target man is usually the mark of desperation not innivation or renewal. However, to give DCU the benefit of the doubt, we should wait to see how they fill the gaps from the loss of Fred and Luciano. To be honest I don't have much hope baased on the choice of Onalfo.
    Regarding a previous comment: how about weighing in on the Fire's choice of Carlos de los Cobos!! -- and he's bringing the skilled Salvadoran midfieder, Martinez. Paul, if any team appears to be implementing your ideal soccer it seems to be the Fire. For some reason you have always seemed to ignore the entertaining play that has been this team's hallmark --- what gives??

  10. Benny Campo, January 22, 2010 at 10:43 p.m.

    To Mike Gaire:

    Australia is a country of 20 million people with soccer the 5th most popular sport.

    USA has a much larger population. What talent has come from the USA besides Landon Donovan and Brad Freidel.

    Please remeber this for next time son becuase it once again shows how ignorant some of you people are.

    Have you even heard of Tim Cahill, Lucas Neill or Brett Emerton numb nuts?

    And to the rest of you, Allsopp is not a great player but he will give u 100%. please show respect.

  11. Eric R., January 24, 2010 at 10:48 p.m.

    I think Paul's article is a bit skewed. With Castillo on the roster, I don't think we'll miss Fred at all-a player with great individual skill yet somehow never really shined the way he was expected to. I was surprised to see Emilio go, but not upset by it. The amount of $$$ he earned was well-earned in 2007 when he scored 20 goals, but he failed to score 10 in each of the last 2 seasons. I for one am more upbeat about United right now than I was in December.

  12. Emmanuel Vella, July 9, 2010 at 1:28 p.m.

    Paul, you show an ignorance regarding Australian soccer that is quite astounding. You seem to imply that Soccer in Australia is overly influenced by English style football and justify this by mentioning some great players that are currently, or have plied their trade in the Premier league (or the lower tiers of English football which generally compare favourably with the MLS BTW)while neglecting the accomplishments and skill sets of players like Marco Bresciano and Vinnie Grella, Italian Australians who have made their Mark in Seria A in Italy, or young up and comers like Luke Wiltshire currently playing top flight football in Russia or those currently playing first division football in Holland. You slam the British commentators in ESPN about their ignornance regarding American Soccer, while being uninformed does not seem to stop you from having opinions.

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