Ten weeks ago D.C. United midfielder Clyde Simms was just another struggling minor league soccer player, a nameless figure in a largely anonymous sport in this country.
He had displayed good midfield qualities during his rookie season with the Richmond Kickers last summer, but there was no reason to believe his career was about to take a dramatic turn. After all, Simms had spent a quiet four years at an average college program, East Carolina, and earned nothing more than second-team all-conference honors. He had never been invited to the youth national team and, despite showing some promise in amateur developmental leagues, had been ignored by MLS teams.
"It all happened so fast. If you had told me I'd be here two or three months later, I never would've believed it," Clyde Simms says of his offseason journey.
(Paula Illingworth -- AP)
"I was just getting ready for my Richmond season and was looking forward to that," Simms, 22, said of this past offseason. "It all happened so fast. If you had told me I'd be here two or three months later, I never would've believed it."
Simms's outlook changed, not necessarily because of anything he did, but because the union representing U.S. national team stars was in a nasty dispute with the U.S. Soccer Federation over a new collective bargaining agreement.
Simms was among two dozen replacement players -- all minor leaguers recommended by their clubs to U.S. Coach Bruce Arena -- invited to training camp outside Los Angeles. If the labor impasse had not been resolved, they would have represented American soccer in a World Cup qualifying match in Trinidad and Tobago.
The union and USSF reached a temporary settlement and the replacement players were sent home -- except Simms, whose play impressed Arena enough to earn an extra week with the regulars. In the end, he didn't make the travel roster for the Trinidad match, but he had possibly earned his way into future player pools and, more importantly, had caught the attention of MLS clubs.
United beat several other teams to claim Simms's MLS rights, bought him from Richmond for roughly $20,000 and then signed him to a four-year contract for an undisclosed salary.
In his first meaningful matches with his new team, Simms was a late-game replacement in both legs of the Champions' Cup quarterfinal series against Harbour View of Jamaica this month. However, some in the organization believe he could challenge for a starting job soon for defending champion United, which will open the regular season on April 2 in Los Angeles against expansion team Chivas USA.
Simms plays deep in central midfield, serving as a defensive stopper and a ball distributor. He also has the ability to join the attack.
"When we got the reports that were saying this guy is a really good player and sooner or later he would play in MLS," United Coach Peter Nowak said, "we didn't want to wait for someone else to grab him. He has done very well for us. I'm really happy for him."
From all accounts, none of the national team regulars showed any animosity toward Simms when they returned to training camp in late January and found a replacement player there. Part of the reason, several observers noted, was that all the replacement players were from lower levels of pro soccer and weren't considered the national team players' peers. If an MLS player had accepted an invitation, however, there might've been some hard feelings.
"Everyone understood the situation," Arena said. "No one held it against him."
Ben Olsen, a midfielder for both United and the national team, befriended Simms at U.S. training camp.
"I didn't have a problem with him being there and I don't think anyone else did either," Olsen said. "It's a personal decision. Players have opportunities, and he took one. Considering what's happened to him since then, I'm sure he wouldn't be saying right now that it was a bad move. I look at the person in those situations, and Clyde is a great kid and a stand-up guy."
Said Simms: "I figured anyone in my spot would've handled it the same way. I didn't know much about the [labor] situation until I got there, so at the time, I didn't think about it a whole lot."
When Simms found out he would be the only replacement player joining the regular group at U.S. camp, he said he did wonder a little how he would be received. However, "I had a day there by myself with the staff before the other guys arrived and they said I shouldn't have a problem. That was comforting," he said. "Everyone treated me well."
While at camp, Olsen took Simms out to dinner and introduced him to some of his agents -- Simms didn't have one at the time -- which eventually led to the deal with United. Simms also hit it off with U.S. veteran defender Eddie Pope, 31, who had attended the same high school -- Southwest Guilford near Greensboro, N.C. -- as Simms.
"Ben had been teasing me that maybe one day I'd be with D.C.," Simms recalled. "His representatives said they were interested in me, so I guess at that point, for the first time, I thought maybe I could get on an MLS team for this season."
Added Olsen: "He reads the game well, he's athletic and he's versatile. I don't know how he's going to pan out, but we're happy to have him around and I know he's happy to be here."