Small Name, Big Game
Tuesday, July 17, 2007
For the first two months of the MLS season, Fred's play was as plain as his name.
Those electrifying clips that D.C. United fans had dug up on YouTube of him dancing past defenders in Australia last season? Must have been doctored. The quick feet on display at United's preseason training sessions? An illusion.
Fred arrived in February with a game that was, by all accounts, as complex as his given name -- Helbert Frederico Carreiro da Silva. United entrusted him to inject Brazilian flair into the midfield and complement a lineup already boasting the league's most valuable player and one of its most accomplished scorers.
Match after match, however, Fred looked uncomfortable on the wings and tended to gravitate toward the middle of the field, where he had been so influential during Melbourne's championship run in February.
"In the beginning, I think it was hard for him, and you could see he wasn't happy there," veteran forward Jaime Moreno said of Fred's position. "But he has gotten used to it and he knows his role. And, when you watch him now, you know he is having fun."
Finally acclimated to a new position and team, to a new league and culture, Fred has found his stride and begun to express himself in the attack. He scored his first goal against Colorado on June 28, set up Luciano Emilio's game-winner at Kansas City six days later and had a goal and an assist in Saturday's 3-3 tie with Dallas. His five assists are a team high.
"It is better now because since the team began winning, all of us have more confidence in each other and individually," he said last week through a Spanish interpreter during an interview in which he primarily spoke English and also slipped into his native Portuguese. "Today I have more confidence in my performance and how I should play. Winning does good things for everybody."
Fred, 27, does not dwell on his transition, saying, in retrospect, that he had no trouble finding his place on the team. But it was clear to those around him that he needed time to adjust to not only United's style and MLS's demands, but to a new way of life. His wife's arrival was delayed by visa issues, and he did not take well to the cold weather in preseason in Washington and in several of the early international and league matches.
"He's cold at our team meetings in the air conditioning," Coach Tom Soehn said with a laugh.
On a serious note, Soehn explained that "it's difficult to come into a new environment. He's got new players around him, a new system to play, there's the travel, the humidity in the summer, so many factors, but you can see how he has grown accordingly and become more comfortable with all the differences."
Since the initial problems, Fred has embraced his function on the flank, a position he said he played regularly in Brazil before heading to Australia and becoming a central attacking midfielder and forward. He does not fill a traditional wide role for United by serving long crosses and covering defensive ground; rather, he is more adept at running at defenders and trying to beat them with his footwork and darting diagonal runs.
Soehn has been pleased with Fred's progress, but believes he could become a greater scoring threat, saying, "It's a matter of understanding how to get into those spots, and once he gets there, think like a goal scorer."