Stratford Had Rough Start for D.C. United

By Steven Goff
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, May 2, 2008

Halftime was only a few minutes away Saturday night at RFK Stadium when D.C. United Coach Tom Soehn removed rookie Dan Stratford from what would become a 4-1 victory over Real Salt Lake.

It was an odd time to make a change, but with Stratford laboring and Soehn wanting replacement Rod Dyachenko to get into the flow of things before the second half started, the London-born midfielder's first MLS start was over just 41 minutes after it began.

"I was bitterly disappointed with how it went," he said yesterday. "It would have been really good for me, when you get the opportunity, you take it and play well. The game didn't go as I hoped."

Stratford played 18 minutes in two appearances in the first four league matches, but as part of Soehn's ever-changing lineup and formation, he was rewarded for his impressive work in training with a start in a deep central midfield role alongside regular starter Clyde Simms and behind playmaker Marcelo Gallardo.

"I didn't really feel nervous before the game, but the first couple of touches got away from me and then you start chasing the game a little bit, trying to get back into a rhythm," he said. "I did grow into the game, but overall it was frustrating."

Despite his lackluster unveiling, Stratford remains very much in United's long-term plans.

"I just thought he had some first-game jitters," Soehn said. "I told him what he needs to focus on are the things he does every day during the week and carry that into the game. It's something you learn as you get your chances."

Stratford, who turns 23 this month, was claimed in the supplemental draft from West Virginia University, but he carries a longer portfolio than must former college players in their first pro season. At age 12, he entered the youth system for London club Crystal Palace. Four years later, he joined nonleague Banstead Athletic as an amateur player, then spent three years in the academy run by Fulham, a Premiership club.

At an open tryout in England, he was spotted by a West Virginia representative, who offered him an opportunity to play in America. For a teenager who attended Arsenal matches at famed Highbury in north London with his uncle and idolized the Gunners' Patrick Vieira, a French national team midfielder, the decision to move overseas was difficult.

"I was apprehensive at first," Stratford said. "Obviously I was looking to sign a pro contract. I told them I was interested but I wanted to explore my options in England still. We stayed in contact and after a few months it looked like the best option."

Stratford was a four-year starter for the Mountaineers, playing alongside, among others, current United teammates Devon McTavish and Pat Carroll. He captained the squad his senior year and finished as the program's all-time leader in assists (27) and games played (85).

After attending the MLS scouting combine in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., he was passed over in the four-round draft. United, though, selected him a week later in the second round of a supplemental draft.

Based on what Soehn said was "his ability to open up the field for us . . . by spraying the ball around and getting other players involved," Stratford received his first, but abbreviated, start against Real Salt Lake.

"He had done well during the week and I didn't think he did very well during the game," Soehn said. "He'll be fine. He has the qualities to become a good player."

United Notes: Soehn said Brazilian midfielder Fred, who left Saturday's match in the first half with a bruised quadriceps, should be ready to play Sunday at Colorado, but the availability of midfielder-defender McTavish (sprained foot) and reserve midfielder Domenic Mediate (hamstring) remains uncertain. . . . Newly acquired forward Francis Doe (Liberia) has received his work visa and is eligible to play this weekend.

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