D.C. United striker Roy Lassiter is enjoying the best all-around season of his Major League Soccer career. He is scoring goals at his usual rate and setting them up at an uncommon pace. His coach says he has matured and become a leader to United's young players.
Yet Lassiter's future with United is uncertain.
United still owes the Miami Fusion future considerations as part of the trade last month that gave United veteran John Maessner and highly regarded rookie Chris Albright. Fusion Coach Ivo Wortmann has told his players that one of United's stars is on the way after the season.
Lassiter, MLS's all-time leading scorer, appears to be the one.
Compounding Lassiter's instability is the likelihood that United again will face salary cap problems this offseason. In past years, MLS's salary cap guidelines have forced the club to trade forward Raul Diaz Arce and midfielder John Harkes.
Lassiter has heard the rumblings and says he doesn't want to leave.
"Right now, I don't plan on moving to another Major League Soccer team," he said recently. "If I had to move to another team, I'd rather look for a place to play in another country. For me, I can't go to just any [MLS] team. They have to have good creative midfielders and good wingers. It can't be just any team that I can jump on and play with. For me, I don't see me going anywhere."
Lassiter, 30, has done a lot of moving since departing North Carolina State. He began by playing three seasons for three teams in Costa Rica, spent a few months in Italy, then joined Tampa Bay during MLS's inaugural season in 1996. He was traded to United for now-retired forward Roy Wegerle in April 1998 and helped D.C. reach the championship game for the third consecutive year.
This season, Lassiter leads MLS with 15 goals, one ahead of Dallas's Jason Kreis and two in front of Columbus's Stern John, last year's scoring champion. He remains the league's all-time leading scorer with 70 goals in 105 games, plus another 10 in 12 playoff appearances.
But Lassiter has diversified his game this season. After accumulating 14 assists in the first three seasons and gaining a reputation for being one-dimensional, Lassiter has become a more balanced player and has made eight assists.
On Sunday against the Tampa Bay Mutiny, in an otherwise lackluster performance that included a missed breakaway, Lassiter set up United's first goal with a cross that Marco Etcheverry headed into the net.
"He's become an even better pro this year," Coach Thomas Rongen said. "He's stronger, and through experience, he has been even more clinical. He's been a marked man since the first year [when he led the league with 27 goals], and it gets harder and harder to produce. But he finds ways to do it."
Rongen also said he thinks Lassiter has matured. Gone, he believes, are the selfish spells, the references to himself in the third person and the sometimes reckless attacking style.
"He still wants to score, but he's taken on greater leadership qualities than in prior years," Rongen added. "You know, he's one of the experienced guys on this team and he knows he has to be a leader."
Lassiter's transition has occurred at a time when he has found himself to be one of the few stars on the field for United. Etcheverry and Jaime Moreno were playing for the Bolivian national team for a large portion of the summer, and Jeff Agoos, Carlos Llamosa, Richie Williams and Ben Olsen were called to play for the United States at the FIFA Confederations Cup.
Also, Eddie Pope has missed most of the season with various injuries.
Without that support system, the prevailing opinion was that Lassiter would suffer. Although he has had some dry spells -- he went a month without a goal until he scored at New England on July 25 -- his contributions have continued.
"I have to be more active to create stuff for myself and go from there," Lassiter said. "I've scored before without those guys and I can score again. The most important thing is for me to play hard and make things happen. If I can continue to do that, the goals will come. I can promise you that."