Tampa Bay Sports Day

Namoff helps young DC United defenders come of age

Marc Burch knew exactly when DC United recorded their first shutout a year ago and the thought sent Clyde Simms into recollection.

“It was either Colorado or Kansas City,” Simms recalled. “Yeah it was late, I remember that.”

United actually shut out both of those teams over a stretch of five league games that also included a 1-0 road win at Chicago.
Despite United’s being a man down for the last 19 minutes, last weekend’s 1-0 shutout of Houston underscores a greater sense of cohesion and more of a bite that were rarely present a year ago.

United have garnered points in all three of their league matches this year also a rare occurrence a year ago. They collected points over a three match stretch just once all of last year, going unbeaten in 6 matches from the end of May through June, including 5 wins.

“I think it showed that everybody knew that when we were a man down, that’s the time you have bunker in and make sure you hold down the fort and do whatever you have to do to win games,” United coach Tom Soehn said.

Houston generated very little attack in the first 70 minutes of the match, including only four shots on goal and none in the first half, but created some good chances after going up a man. A year ago, most mistakes or misfortune were punished by DC’s opponents in nearly every match.

So far this year, however, they have avoided the little mistakes for the most part and when the errors have occurred, they have made the play to avoid the catastrophic result.

“I think even the play where they have had an opportunity and Namoff saved one off the line. There was a scramble in front, it could have been a foul, but our guys covered each other and that is what is expected of everybody,” said Soehn.

After taking the lead in the 47th minute against Houston, DC recovered nicely from a poor punch attempt by goalkeeper Louis Crayton during a scramble near the 6-yard box. An open half-volley attempt by Ricardo Clark near the penalty spot was cleared off the line by Bryan Namoff in the 52nd minute.

“We got punished for our mistakes last year,” said assistant coach Mark Simpson, about the sequence. “In this past game we were fortunate that we didn’t get punished and our back line will keep learning from each other.”

“I feel like guys are fighting for each other a little bit more. We know what it feels like last year, being on the wrong end of so many bounces and so much bad luck. Maybe this year, we’ll get a little bit of luck our way,” added defender Marc Burch.

In the first half, central defender Dejan Jakovic fumbled the ball on the ball on flank but his closing speed kept Brian Mullan from an uncontested breakaway against Crayton.

“You would like that he didn’t have to use that speed but he did when he did get himself into trouble,” noted Simpson,, who noticed his speed scouting him with the Canadian National Team last year.

“He does have some flat-out good speed. He may not be the quickest over 5 yards but when he opens it up, he’s got a lot of pace. He will continue to grow and recognize what spots got him in trouble in the previous games and he’ll learn from that.”

“He’s a good player, a skilled player,” added Namoff. “He’s good with his feet, being so big. He’s a quiet personality, but we’re slowing trying to evolve him into that center back, which is big shoes to fill, and you definitely want to have someone who commands a presence back there.

“He’s definitely starting off well. We’ve done a lot of things where we talk out plays where we might have been susceptible in the back and when we do things right we try to make sure we reinforce that in a positive way.”

Though Jakovic plays centrally, Namoff has been the vocal leader of the back line, a role he relishes and for which he dutifully accepts the responsibility.
“He’s pretty much leading the vocals out there. We listen to him,” said Jakovic. “He’s been here the longest and has the most experience. I definitely listen to him and hear what he has to say.”

With Namoff’s help, he continues to adjust his game, “I am starting to know the guys better and the way they want the ball and how everyone moves and covering for each other.”

Namoff has been mentoring the 23-year old defender in finding his way around the league; going hard into tackles, staying tight to bigger forwards and especially being vocal.

“I take that as something that I want to do. It’s something that should be expected of me, being on the team for this long, the amount of games that I’ve played and the experience that I have,” said the Bradley University graduate.

“It’s one where now I can offer the advice for some of these younger guys just coming in, telling them what I’ve seen in the past of what works and what doesn’t work because I’ve been on both ends of the spectrum throughout the years. It¹s definitely a quality that I want to have and I work on each and every day to keep and maintain.”

The added film study together, aided by specific clips that the coaches frequently e-mail to the players, has accelerated their development and cohesiveness as a unit.

“It can be attributed to a lot of factors. It’s definitely the players that have been brought in, some for the younger guys have really bought into the system. Some of the older guys have really stepped up this year, within that leadership role,” Namoff said after Tuesday’s training session.

“But it is still a long season so we’re nowhere near where we need to be. That’s one of the comments that Tommy said today, and I completely agree with.”

“We have a long way to progress but you can see that the effort’s there and the mentality is there,” added Namoff. “Those are good characteristics to start off with at the beginning of the season. You can tell from just how the training session was today that there was just a collective confidence throughout the team, and I think that’s probably based on the win.

“Everything¹s better when you¹re winning, but at the same time, we’re winning as a team, and to be able to defend and keep a shutout being down ten men is always a positive.”