For Casal, Faith in United Goes Abroad
Wednesday, March 21, 2007
Don't say anything, Kasali Yinka Casal told himself. Don't celebrate, don't scream, don't make any move that would imply he was happy about Manchester United scoring a goal against Arsenal.
He could see the pack of Man U fans rejoicing in the distance at the Gunners' old Highbury stadium and wanted so badly to announce his allegiance, but tucked in amid the Arsenal supporters, silence was his safest option.
"It was a great feeling, but I had to keep it in," D.C. United's new left wing said yesterday, reflecting on that match many years ago. "If I hadn't, I probably would've gotten mobbed."
Growing up in north London, Casal was supposed to support Arsenal or Tottenham Hotspur -- certainly not Manchester United. But because he played the same position as his favorite player, United's Ryan Giggs, Casal was a reticent Red Devils follower. His family knew, his friends knew, but on those occasions when he took the 20-minute Tube ride to Arsenal's historic grounds, he kept his loyalties to himself.
"I would wear regular clothes," he said. "I couldn't let anyone know that United was my club."
Since leaving England last month, Casal, 19, has shifted his priorities to another United -- D.C. United.
After four years in the youth academy at Fulham, a lesser Premier League club in southwest London, Casal became the first young Englishman in D.C.'s 11-year history and the fourth foreign-born attacking player to sign this preseason.
With breakaway speed cultivated on the running track and ball skills honed in one of the world's most competitive environments, Casal will serve as an option on either flank.
"He's starting to understand what his role is and how he factors in to how we do things," Coach Tom Soehn said. "He's blessed with talent and speed and physical size, and we're starting to see more stretches of him standing out in training. He's got a lot to learn, but he's a sponge -- he's picked it up fast."
United became interested in Casal after receiving a letter and highlight DVD from his brother, Abbey, who coaches a youth team in England and has contacts in the U.S. soccer community. Despite Casal's progress with the club's youth program and reserves, Fulham did not see an immediate future for him and allowed United to sign him without a transfer fee.
As part of their research, United officials contacted Brian McBride and Carlos Bocanegra, U.S. World Cup players who have been with Fulham's first team for several years and had, on occasion, trained with Casal. "Nothing but good reviews," technical director Dave Kasper said.
Besides minor cultural adjustments, Casal has had to get used to a different style of play.