United's Latest Import Has a Lot of Mileage

D.C. United found its new keeper Louis Crayton, above, thanks to a tip-off from fellow Liberian Francis Doe, a United reserve who Crayton helped as a young African footballer.
D.C. United found its new keeper Louis Crayton, above, thanks to a tip-off from fellow Liberian Francis Doe, a United reserve who Crayton helped as a young African footballer. (Nam Y. Huh - AP)
By Paul Tenorio
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, August 20, 2008

New D.C. United goalkeeper Louis Crayton's smile grew when he was asked how long he had known United forward and fellow Liberian Francis Doe.

"I knew him when he was much younger," Crayton said, sticking his hand out about waist high to signify how tall Doe was.

Crayton, who was acquired Friday from Swiss club FC Basel and started in the team's 1-0 win over the Chicago Fire the next day, first met Doe around 1998 or 1999 at a refugee camp in Ghana, Doe recalled.

Crayton was in the country for a World Cup qualifier, he said, and after seeing Doe play he gave the talented young forward some advice. But the two lost contact when Crayton headed back to play in Switzerland and Doe left for the United States. Then, in 2004, Doe was named to the Liberian national team, for which Crayton was then the starting goalkeeper.

"I remembered, 'Oh, this is the kid from Ghana,' " said Crayton, who has since retired from international play. "And it was so funny to see him on the national team playing with me."

Crayton took Doe and another player under his wing, and Doe said the goalkeeper soon became like "a big brother."

So when D.C. United released backup goalkeeper José Carvallo in July, Doe called his agent, Charles S. Dean II, who in turn contacted United General Manager Dave Kasper about Crayton. After viewing seven DVDs of his European club games, Kasper moved to make a deal, and soon the keeper was on his way to Washington and a reunion with Doe.

"The world is a very small world," Crayton said.

The move to MLS is one the 30-year old, who has owned a house in Tampa with his wife Christine since 2003, had been looking to do for years. And after eight different clubs over 11 years in Switzerland, the past two spent as a backup with league champion Basel, Crayton was ready for a change.

"I was fed up with that condition [as backup] and I felt that this was another step forward in my career," said Crayton, who holds both Liberian and Swiss citizenship. "And I was willing to take the opportunity."

Crayton's signing was also a necessary move for United, which has struggled to find consistent play in goal all season. Zach Wells, who has started 17 MLS games for United, ranks second-to-last in the league among goalkeepers with at least 600 minutes played with a 1.65 goals against average and has been criticized for lacking a presence in the net.

In Crayton, United gets a battle-tested leader who it hopes can direct the defense. He has 40 international appearances with the Liberian national team, including during the country's near-qualification for the 2002 World Cup, as well as experience in UEFA Cup play.

"He's played in some big games, international games, and a big league in Switzerland for arguably their best club," said Mark Simpson, United's assistant coach who oversees the goalies. "We did a lot of research into wanting to bring a quality guy in with some experience, with some passion, that could not only make saves but to be a big presence back there."

Crayton showed that ability in his first start, shutting out a Chicago team that sits third in the Eastern Conference and giving United its first shutout on the road this season. Crayton made only two saves, one an impressive first-half stop of a blistering Chris Rolfe shot, but Coach Tom Soehn said he thought the new addition did well.

"I thought he managed the box very well," Soehn said. "I thought the communication between the backs was better. But I think that's also a credit to our backs doing a better job because we've been working on it. So it was a combination of things."

Tonight against the New England Revolution, Crayton will face a dangerous attacking tandem in Adam Cristman and Taylor Twellman and a new surface with Gillette Stadium's FieldTurf. But if he can replicate his debut performance, United's search for consistency in the net finally may be nearing a conclusion, something Simpson said is of the utmost importance.

"It's just important that you have somebody back there that just is going to provide stability back there," Simpson said. "Somebody you can count on and not look like they're fragile. And I thought that's what Louis brought. You look back there and you think, 'Yeah, he's got that under control.' "

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