United Notebook

Lack of Playing Time Has Niell 'Very Worried'

By Steven Goff
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Franco Niell was not included on D.C. United's game-day roster in either of two matches last week, an ominous sign for an Argentine forward who is eighth on the club's 27-man payroll but has not scored in MLS play.

Niell appeared in seven of the first eight league games, starting three, and had the winning goal during a Champions' Cup match against Pachuca of Mexico.

But in United's home-and-home series with Toronto FC last week, he was left off the roster and only played in a reserve division game.

"Any player in this situation would be not only very discouraged, but very worried," Niell said through an interpreter. United acquired the 5-foot-4 forward on a one-year loan from Argentinos Juniors and has an option to purchase his contract at the end of the season.

Niell is set to earn $152,500, a figure higher than several United starters. If the club decides to release him, it almost certainly would do so by July 1, when MLS contracts are guaranteed for the season. Such a move would free up salary cap space to acquire another player.

"He has not shown the tenacity, the work rate, the energy that he had when he first came," United General Manager Dave Kasper said of Niell, who was impressive throughout preseason. "Some players have difficulty adjusting -- the league, the language -- and I think that is the case with Franco."

With Niell unable to earn playing time and United (3-7) off to one of the slowest starts in club history, he could become expendable if a replacement is identified.

"We are going to evaluate how he responds in the next several weeks," Kasper said.

With Francis Doe away on Liberian national team duty until June 21, Niell might get a chance in coming matches, starting tomorrow night at New England (6-3-1). Doe was the only reserve forward on United's 18-man game roster Saturday night, serving as a backup to starters Luciano Emilio and Jaime Moreno.

"We expected more," Coach Tom Soehn said of Niell. "It's not any given performance; it is what you put in on a daily basis in training."

If his minutes do not increase, Niell said he would "definitely consider leaving, whether going to another club or going back to Argentina."

Niell acknowledged having troubling fitting into United's system.

"I am the type of player that basically runs forward and I haven't had to run back in a defending capacity, which is something that I have had to get used to here," he said. "I feel I am making progress toward that and ultimately it is the coach's decision to include the players. . . . Right now, I find myself on the outside looking in."

Moreno Call-Up Uncertain

The Bolivian soccer federation would like Moreno to rejoin the national team this weekend to prepare for a pair of 2010 World Cup qualifiers, but that is unlikely to happen.

In last place in South America's 10-nation competition, Bolivia is preparing to play home games against Chile and Paraguay between June 14 and 18. Federations are required to give clubs 15 days' notice about a call-up, and United officials said they have not received an official request.

Bolivia apparently wants Moreno right away or not at all, United's team captain said.

If United is asked to release Moreno closer to the date of the first qualifier, he could leave after United's June 7 game at Chicago and miss just one MLS match: June 14 vs. New York. . . .

According to two sources, United has made inquiries about acquiring Real Salt Lake backup goalkeeper Chris Seitz (University of Maryland) but that the chances of a deal are remote.

© 2008 The Washington Post Company