Steadier Hands in Goal for United

D.C. United's Troy Perkins will try to avoid a repeat of his performance against New York in the teams' rematch today at Giants Stadium.
D.C. United's Troy Perkins will try to avoid a repeat of his performance against New York in the teams' rematch today at Giants Stadium. (By Jonathan Newton -- The Washington Post)
By Steven Goff
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, April 22, 2006

When Troy Perkins lined up as D.C. United's starting goalkeeper in the season opener three weeks ago, "there were a lot of nerves, a lot of demons in the back of my head going, 'You can't do this, you're not ready,' " he recalled yesterday.

The demons were right. Fifteen minutes into the match against New York at RFK Stadium, a blazing free kick beat him to an upper corner of the net. Three more minutes passed when Perkins mishandled a cross and allowed another goal.

United's two-goal response in the second half salvaged a tie and helped divert some of the focus away from the shaken Perkins, but he and the coaching staff knew it wasn't his finest moment.

"I told him afterward, 'It's not important what happened to you, it's how you respond to what happened to you,' " said Mark Simpson, who coaches United's goalkeepers. "And he has responded well."

Perkins, starting in place of the injured Nick Rimando, has not yielded a goal since those early missteps -- a 252-minute shutout streak heading into this afternoon's rematch between United (2-0-1) and the Red Bulls (0-0-3) at Giants Stadium.

Supported by a maturing backline, Perkins was not forced to make many difficult saves in a pair of 2-0 victories over Chivas USA and the Houston Dynamo. Nonetheless, he showed greater confidence organizing the defense and handled crosses and set pieces with conviction.

"We give him a chance, and now it's up to him how he's going to continue," Coach Peter Nowak said. "If he's going to make easy mistakes, the whole team is going to suffer. So we have to eliminate this stuff. He's made good progress since the first game, and he knows these kind of mistakes shouldn't happen on the professional level."

Perkins, 24, can't blame inexperience for his opening-day problems. He started 16 games in 2004 before Rimando, slow to regain his form following knee surgery the previous year, won back the starting job and anchored United's run to its fourth MLS Cup title. Last year Perkins made only two league appearances and spent most of his time playing for D.C.'s reserve squad.

But when Rimando injured his foot this preseason, Perkins returned to the forefront.

"On a grading scale, I'd give myself a C, a B and an A-minus," Perkins said of his first three games. "You would rather have that mistake happen really early so you can concentrate on what's ahead. You're not as worried because you've already embarrassed yourself. It's behind you and now you can move on."

United needs Perkins to perform well because his only backup is a rookie, Ryan McIntosh from the University of Central Florida. Rimando, among the league leaders in goals against average and shutouts last year, was close to returning to the active roster before suffering a setback during workouts this week. He probably won't be available for another two or three weeks, Simpson said.

"Nick just needs to get on a treatment plan and get rid of all the pain before he starts training again," Simpson said. "He would keep training even if it were still painful. I think he just kind of pushed it too far."

Despite the absence of an experienced teammate to challenge him, Perkins said he knows that if he does not play well, the club could start looking around the league or overseas for a replacement.

"You are fighting for your job every day, and that's something the coaches have always preached," he said. "There's always going to be competition, whether it's Ryan McIntosh or Nick when he gets back. I have to focus on continuing to improve and showing the coaches I deserve to be out there."

United Notes: With defender John Wilson sidelined with a minor knee injury, Bryan Namoff has been included on the 18-man game roster for the first time this season. Namoff, a starter most of the past three seasons, has a groin problem that may require surgery at some point. "It's as good as it's going to get without surgery," said Namoff, who participated in an intrasquad scrimmage this week. . . . Midfielder Clyde Simms is available today after missing last weekend's match with a foot injury, and forward Alecko Eskandarian has recovered from a foot ailment.

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