McTavish's Midas Scoring Touch

United's Devon McTavish says scoring has changed his offensive mentality.
United's Devon McTavish says scoring has changed his offensive mentality. (By Toni L. Sandys -- The Washington Post)
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By Steven Goff
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, April 5, 2008

D.C. United's Devon McTavish is the first to admit the degree of difficulty on his early-season goals was not high.

"When you are four yards out," he said in typical self-deprecating manner, "any touch is going to work in that situation."

But for a third-year pro who had not scored since college, who was recruited by only one Division I program and who has had to balance his blossoming career with a gastrointestinal disease, McTavish's three goals from short distances in last month's Champions' Cup quarterfinals had as much impact as a scorching volley from 25 yards.

Though neither he nor his teammates have found the target the last two matches, the Winchester, Va., native has brought an unexpected finishing touch to an evolving club that will play its MLS home opener tonight against Toronto FC at RFK Stadium.

"I have a lot of work to do if I want to continue it, but anytime you score a goal, it's going to boost your confidence," said McTavish, who played primarily on the back line last year but started on the right side of midfield in three Champions' Cup matches and the MLS opener at Kansas City last weekend.

"It's like in basketball when you get a layup, it could lead to five three-pointers in a row. The way I played last year on defense, it got me into the mentality to always pass the ball. I was never in those situations to shoot, and getting those goals have helped change my mentality a little bit."

Until this spring, goal scorer was one of the few roles that McTavish had not filled since being selected in the fourth, and last, round of the obscure supplemental draft two years ago. In five appearances as a rookie, he played primarily on both midfield flanks. Last year, in 20 starts, he found himself mostly in central defense -- the only position, other than goalkeeper, that he never occupied at West Virginia University. Before impressing United at an indoor scouting combine in early 2006, he had a two-week tryout with Club Brugge in Belgium where he attempted to earn a contract as a right back.

"One of the things that makes him valuable to a coach is his ability to play different spots," United Coach Tom Soehn said. "We can use him almost anywhere."

When he began pursuing a pro career, McTavish said he believed versatility would be detrimental to his cause.

"You always think you want to be the best at one position," said McTavish, who, as a teenager, played club ball in Chantilly and attended United matches, including MLS Cup '97 at RFK. "But I am enjoying my role of being a fill-in man as long as I can get on the field. I don't really care anymore. I am starting to understand the wing and enjoy it a little better."

His first goal, against Harbour View on March 12 in Jamaica, came almost by accident. Caught in the path of teammate Marcelo Gallardo's shot, McTavish was struck by the ball before converting the rebound from six yards. Six days later, he put away Gallardo's free kick that had skipped through the penalty area and later one-timed Santino Quaranta's pass as part of a 5-0 home victory.

With two new center backs from South America in the lineup, McTavish, 23, would not be starting if it weren't for Ben Olsen's lingering ankle problems. Olsen, McTavish's roommate on road trips last season, continues to recover from surgery last fall and is not expected back for at least several more weeks. While Olsen's grit and experience have been missed, McTavish has utilized his defensive instincts and found comfort in the attack.

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