John Adds Option and Intrigue to United

Veteran Defender Gives Lineup More Flexibility

Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, April 26, 2009

D.C. United's acquisition of veteran defender Avery John was not the first personnel move since the club broke training camp and will certainly not be the last before the trade and signing deadline in September. But by adding John to a back line that Coach Tom Soehn called a "little shallow" and waiving forward Francis Doe on Thursday, United gained greater roster, if not lineup, clarity for the next stage of the MLS season.

John, who is expected to be in uniform for this afternoon's match against New York at Giants Stadium, offers another option at left back and infuses a young back line with domestic and international experience. Doe's departure symbolized United's surplus at forward, a position bolstered by the rapid emergence of rookie Chris Pontius, the recovery of Santino Quaranta and the promise of newcomer Ange N'Silu.

In the wake of John's signing, two recent injuries and uplifting performances by rookies and reserves in Wednesday's U.S. Open Cup game, Soehn could go several different ways with his starting lineup against the Red Bulls.

The most intrigue involves the back line. Dejan Jakovic has been the starting central back the past four MLS matches, but Greg Janicki might have regained the job after a strong return on Wednesday from a head injury.

Jakovic has also played on the right side of a three-man configuration and, if he were to end up there today, Bryan Namoff, a mainstay on the right, would likely replace Marc Burch on the left. Rookie Rodney Wallace has also played there but is more effective in midfield.

John started 71 games for New England between 2004 and '07 before playing for second-division Miami last year. He remains under consideration for Trinidad and Tobago's national team after appearing in the 2006 World Cup in Germany.

"We felt we needed to make a roster move that, through the course of a season when you have so many games, it gives you some flexibility back there," Soehn said.

Although John's last competitive game came about four months ago, "Mentally and physically, I think I am capable of 70 minutes," the former American University standout said. "After that, it is give or take. I am a person who takes care of myself, so it's not like I haven't been doing anything. I made sure I kept myself at a certain physical level."

United quietly brought in John, 33, for workouts almost two weeks ago, allowing the coaching staff an extended evaluation period and John an opportunity to bond with potential new teammates.

John said he weighed options in Australia and China during the winter, but "the whole idea of looking for a new challenge in a different country, it wasn't like I had to do it or wanted to do it. . . . It has been an ongoing communication with my agent and a couple different teams in [MLS] and this one came true."

John's arrival comes at a time when United's defense seems to be melding. The unit yielded a goal but few other scoring opportunities last Friday against New England and shut out Dallas on Wednesday.

"We are taking each game as a lesson," Namoff said. "We are getting better and more efficient. It's good to get Greg back and Avery brings experience. At any point, we have guys who can step in off the bench and play a starting role. It's a long season and we are going to have to rely on a lot of players."

The attack should do just fine without Doe, who had seven goals in 19 appearances in all competitions last year. But after slipping on the depth chart and not performing well in a reserve role at Real Salt Lake two weeks ago, the Liberian was excluded from the game-day roster the past two matches.

While Doe fell out of favor, rookie midfielder Brandon Barklage has surged into contention for playing time. The third-round draft pick from Saint Louis University made his first start Wednesday in place of Christian Gómez (hamstring injury) and scored in the second half. Gómez is expected to be sidelined again today, but Soehn seems likely to turn to a more experienced player in the playmaking role.

United Notes: N'Silu (hip flexor) is not expected to be in uniform. . . . The Red Bulls, MLS Cup finalists last year, lost at Kansas City on Thursday, 1-0. Right back Carlos Johnson was red-carded in the second minute -- the quickest ejection in MLS history and his second dismissal of the year -- and is suspended today.

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