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Posted at 11:59 AM ET, 02/02/2007

DCU's Rookies Choose Numbers

Did you notice the part of the AP's Austin Kearns story where he said he was switching numbers, from 28 to 25. "Kind of a new start," he said.

Well, he's not the only one. D.C. United midfielder Devon McTavish is switching from 22 to 18, the former number of Nicky Rimando. Yesterday McTavish was calling himself "dieciocho." "I lost it along the way," he said, "but I'm trying to get back to my roots."

See, he was always an 18 growing up, in honor of Juergen Klinsmann, through his senior year in high school. Then he took on one of soccer's legendary numbers, number 10, "numero diez, the playmaker," he said. When he joined D.C. United, the club initially gave him 29, although last preseason he switched to 22, which only became available because Domenic Mediate--who was given 22 but didn't like it--had just switched to 6, which he (Mediate) figured was better than 22, even though he (Mediate) really wanted to be 20, which was already taken by Matt Nickell, who is no longer with the team.

Trust me, this doesn't get any less confusing.

Point being, we were discussing all this yesterday, and listening to McTavish demonstrate his knowledge of Spanish numbers, and then we learned that after practice the rookies had just been asked to rank their top three jersey numbers, which we figured would make for some great blogging.

We learned this from Ryan McIntosh, who had been a 1 or a 0 his whole career until he got to United, when he was given a 30. It's sort of a point of pride for him now; he was in Bradenton once listening to a youth coach tell his players that they could disregard a number 31 they were watching practice, because players over 30 would usually get cut. McIntosh, a 30, was standing right next to this coach. So McIntosh plans to keep his 30 for as long as he's with DCU, although yesterday when he heard the rookies being asked for their preferences he jokingly asked for 58, and was turned down.

But we did find out what some of the rookies asked for. Jay Needham easily wins the "Best Story" award. He asked for 33, which he acknowledged was not a traditional soccer number.

"it's going to sound really weird," he said, "but it's my girlfriend's favorite number. It was her one request. She said, 'I don't care about anything else, just try to wear No. 33."

Like McTavish, Needham always wore 18 in club soccer, also in honor of Klinsmann. He loved that number, but when he got to SMU it was taken. The lowest available number was 14, so he wore that. And when I wondered whether his girlfriend likes 33 because of Larry Bird, Jay admitted he didn't know exactly why he was supposed to request that number.

"No idea," he said. "She's just got some weird thing about 33. I was just like 'Fine, I'll wear it, honey, whatever makes you happy.'"

Solid. Brad North requested 13, 2 and 25, in that order. He was a 13 at Northwestern, which was issued to him without his input. A lot of people like to avoid 13, because of bad-luck connotations. Well, in North's first week of collegiate training, he rolled his ankle and ended up missing most of his freshman year. But he wound up having a fine career, and so he decided that "13, I guess, kind of became lucky in a way," so he figured he'd try to stick with it as a pro.

North's second choice, 2, also has significance; he was a 2 all through his club years, until his club team switched uniforms when he was in high school, at which point he became a 17. He's never been a 10 or a 9; he thought about switching to 9 (the goal scorer) during his senior year of college, but figured he shouldn't mess with what was working. But one of his coaches at Northwestern, Ovidio Felcaro, always called him Number 9 anyhow. Soccer's weird that way.

"He always told me, 'Be the number 9, be the number 9, score goals, be the number 9,'" North said. "So I guess that kind of became ingrained."

North's third choice, 25, has no significance.

Fellow rookie Guy-Roland Kpene asked for 20 or 2, but he's never worn anything but 9. No one on DCU currently wears 9; Freddy Adu was a 9, but he's gone, and Jaime Moreno used to be 9 before becoming 99, which Kpene just thought was weird. But rookies weren't given the option of taking 9 yesterday; maybe it's being saved for a future acquisition.

Guy said that in the Ivory Coast, where he grew up, people are "old school," and "9 is not a number, it's a position. The number means something. When you play No. 2, you're the right fullback. No. 9, you're The Man, the striker. So everybody wants to get No. 9, and I've always been No. 9."

(As an aside, DCU fans will be pleased to know that Guy has always admired DCU and the Revs, since he feels they play a more international brand of soccer. "They have technical players, it's not like American-style direct soccer," he said. "They have Gomez, Moreno. I like that kind of soccer.")

Guy requested 20 yesterday, in honor of Paolo Rossi, and put in for 2 just because it was a low number.

"Like I was saying, in my country we're old-school," he said. "You have to be a number 'till 11. When you're 12, you're not on the team."

Of course, his request for 20 could impact Mediate, who was thinking about trying to go back to 20, since Nickell's departure. Mediate had grown up as a 5 and an 8, but 5 wasn't available in high school, and he got stuck with 20, but he grew to like it, "just liked the way it looked," he said.

Assuming your head hasn't exploded yet, you'll recall that Mediate switched from 22 to 6 last year, but really wanted to be 20, except Nickell had it. So Mediate attempted to badger Nickell into trading, and offered to negotiate a deal.

I immediately began thinking of the famous Clinton Portis-Ifeanyi Ohalete case, where Portis offered $40,000 for No. 26 and then it became all legal and nasty. So I asked Mediate what the terms of his offer were.

"Oh, nothing," he said. "My number 6. I mean, I might have given him $5 or something, if I had a couple dollars in my bag."

Anyhow, Mediate planned to wait a few weeks and see whether he wanted to stick with 6 or change to 20, but if Guy gets 20 that could change, but Mediate said he's gotten comfortable with 6 anyhow.

Of course, you could argue that none of this matters, and that you've already wasted far too many brain cells trying to follow this, since so many players don't really care.

Clyde Simms grew up a 23, because of Michael Jordan (the same number new Caps blue-liner Milan Jurcina will wear), and then became a 10 in club ball, and a 9 in college, and a 12 with the Richmond Kickers. He's 19 with D.C., and says that's fine with him, and that after his rookie year he decided he'd stick with it. Jeff Carroll was always an 8 growing up, in honor of his birthday (January 8, same as my dad), but when D.C. United gave him 24 he figured that was fine, too.

(Speaking of 8, like every Baltimore Orioles fan of my age, I always tried to be 8 in every sport growing up. But somehow I never became a professional athlete. And you?)

I asked Guy, who, remember, had always been a 9, whether receiving a new number would be worrisome.

"Nah," he said. "I'm still Guy. It's just a number."

By  |  11:59 AM ET, 02/02/2007

Categories:  D.C. United

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