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On United's Backline, Namoff Is Front and Center

By Steven Goff
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, April 8, 2009 1:56 PM

Bryan Namoff thumped the ball from deep in D.C. United's end, a speculative pass intended, he said, to "find a small radius" in the heart of Houston's backline and perhaps create a stir at the start of the second half last Saturday night. It did much more than that.

Namoff's 55-yard offering sailed over leaping Dynamo defender Bobby Boswell, took one firm bounce just outside the penalty area, another inside of it and met teammate Luciano Emilio in stride for a clever chip over goalkeeper Pat Onstad -- the lone strike in a 1-0 victory at RFK Stadium.

Namoff is not known for his attacking contributions -- since becoming a regular in 2003, he has two goals and six assists in 146 regular season league appearances -- but in a year when his experience at right back will be vital to the maturation of a young backline, his pass against Houston maintained United's promising start to the MLS season (1-0-2) heading into this Saturday's match at Real Salt Lake.

"It was a beautiful pass," Emilio said. "I just had to lift the ball. Namoff did the hard part."

Namoff helped preserve the lead, clearing Ricardo Clark's shot off the goal line and settling the defense when Jaime Moreno's ejection left United short-handed for the final 19 minutes. Last year, the club did not register its first league shutout until the 17th match.

In his ninth season, Namoff has quietly climbed to fourth among United's all-time leaders in games played (172), fifth in starts (156) and fifth in minutes played (14,009). After performing in the shadows of more decorated and well-traveled central defenders, the 2001 second-round draft pick from Bradley University has moved to the forefront in guiding a defensive corps that includes Greg Janicki and Devon McTavish (both 24) and Dejan Jakovic (23).

"He has been through it all," said Jakovic, who joined the club last month from Red Star Belgrade and has started all three games.

In preseason conversations with Coach Tom Soehn, "It was mutual that the team needed me, with my years in the league, to step into that leadership role," said Namoff, who turns 30 next month. "It's one where now I can offer the advice for some of these younger guys just coming in, telling them what I've seen in the past of what works and what doesn't work because I've been on both ends of the spectrum throughout the years."

Though Namoff played more minutes than ever last season and scored the winning goal in United's overtime victory over Chicago in the U.S. Open Cup quarterfinals, his future with the club was far from certain. With his contract set to expire, he began to explore opportunities in Europe and, according to agent Patrick McCabe, received interest from at least three clubs in the second tier of the English league pyramid known as the Championship.

Americans typically encounter problems acquiring a British work permit, the exception being national team veterans. But Namoff had an advantage over most U.S. players: His wife, Nadine, has French roots, which made him eligible for a passport from a European Union member state. Such a document would qualify him for a contract in England.

"I was definitely entertaining the idea," he said. "Some teams wanted me to come in for workouts and see what I was about. It was one of those decisions where if I did make that commitment, I was going to go all the way and not turn back."

The thought of leaving Washington after eight seasons also weighed on his mind.

"I've been here my entire career, and out of loyalty to D.C., I wanted to go through negotiations and see how it would turn out," he said.

It turned out just fine. Namoff signed a multiyear contract with a base salary of $105,000 -- only a slight increase from last season but with significant bonuses.

"It allows me to stay where I am familiar with things, where I am comfortable," he said. "I feel like I am home here.

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