Simms Is United's Man in the Middle

Clyde Simms scored the winning goal Wednesday night, but he spends most of his time in a vital midfield role that focuses equally on defensive stops and attacking the net.
Clyde Simms scored the winning goal Wednesday night, but he spends most of his time in a vital midfield role that focuses equally on defensive stops and attacking the net. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais - Associated Press)
By Paul Tenorio
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, September 29, 2007

When D.C. United's Clyde Simms scored the winning goal against CD Chivas Guadalajara in the Copa Sudamericana on Wednesday night, he didn't quite know what to do -- so he just ran.

"I was very excited to get a goal, and a game-winner in a game of that magnitude was great," Simms said. "I was definitely surprised. I don't score many goals. You always want to but I didn't expect to."

For Simms, a midfielder who is positioned ahead of the defensive back line but tucked behind the midfield, scoring goals isn't something he's used to doing -- Wednesday's goal was Simms's second in three years with United. His only other goal also was a game-winner, last June against the Chicago Fire.

Instead of scoring, Simms, 25, fills a role that is often overlooked, yet vital defensively and in the attack. The position has been perfected on the international level by the likes of France's Claude Mak¿l¿l¿ and Italy's Genaro Gattuso. It requires both a high level of physicality and the discipline to stay in position and not be drawn into the attack.

"Clyde's role is huge. I think it's one of the most important positions on the team," defender Greg Vanney said. "A lot of times guys get into that position and they think that as a center midfielder they need go and join the attack and they leave this huge gap between our defense and what would be our midfield. And Clyde has embraced the role and has been fantastic at breaking up plays and always being positionally in the right places to help us out."

Simms's soft-spoken nature may seem to conflict with the stereotypically brash, Gattuso-like defensive midfielders. But Simms has become more of an enforcer.

"That's something they've always wanted, [for him] to become a more physical player in there," United midfielder Ben Olsen said. "And I think you've seen it, you've seen him progress along that physical path."

Olsen, who has played defensive midfield at times in his career, pointed to an ability to read the game as one of the keys to being effective in the holding role.

"Everybody needs to read the game in a match, but in particular that defensive center midfielder has to do a good job of clogging holes and doing a lot of thinking as far as defensive shape," Olsen said. "You're in the center of the field and you're bringing all your guys in and you're pushing them out. It's a demanding role not just physically but mentally."

Simms still is a young player and needs to remain consistent, especially when United is transitioning on offense.

A major role for the defensive midfielder is switching the point of attack, and while Coach Tom Soehn said that Simms is showing improvement going forward, he must be able to do so consistently.

"I think Clyde's done a lot better this year as far as breaking up plays," Soehn said. "And his ability to play forward is even better and that's been a crucial part as to why he's been on the field."

United's defense often looks more organized with Simms , and his ability to force opponents into more predictable play has made defending easier. Adding a more physical presence and patrolling the midfield, United has given up just seven goals during the current 10-game unbeaten streak.

"He's been a huge part of the success of this team," Olsen said. "Clyde's a winner. If you look at his record with us it seems like every time he's on the field we're winning games. And that's an intangible that you really look for in players."

United Notes: Defender Bryan Namoff, who was limping after Wednesday's game, did not practice yesterday but was listed as probable on United's injury report.

United will be facing a Toronto attack that has scored only 19 goals this season. By comparison, United's leading goal scorer, Luciano Emilio, has 19 goals this year.

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