D.C. United forward Roy Lassiter has been hearing the rumors since the all-star break--that at the end of the season, he will be shipped to the Miami Fusion to complete an earlier trade between the clubs. For quite some time, the speculation bothered him and, he admits, affected his play.
But with the season nearing an end and United on the brink of another berth in the Major League Soccer championship game, the league's all-time leading scorer is trying to put aside the off-field distractions and regain the scoring touch that deserted him about two months ago.
"Good players change teams in every sport," Lassiter said yesterday at United Park. "I know it happens. And if I am going somewhere else next year, I know it's not because of me or my performance. I'm at peace with that. I don't want to bring a bad attitude out to the field. I don't want to hinder the team. I want to have a good attitude and be in good spirits because that's when Roy Lassiter plays his best soccer."
United officials won't say who is going to Miami or whether it has even been determined. Miami officials have been boasting that they will be getting a D.C. star--"someone who will have a major impact on our team," Fusion General Manager Doug Hamilton said last weekend.
When the initial trade was made during the summer--United received midfielder John Maessner and rookie forward Chris Albright for midfielder Brian Kamler and future considerations--sources close to the situation said Lassiter probably would be the other player involved. Now there is some question whether Miami, which has several good attacking players, wants another forward or would prefer a defender.
"My hunch at first was, yeah, they're going to send me somewhere," Lassiter said. "For sure, it was going to happen. Now I don't know. . . . I just don't want to find out at the last second through another route. I want them to be a man and tell me."
While the mystery continues, Lassiter is trying to snap out of an agonizing scoring slump. Despite tying Dallas's Jason Kreis and Columbus's Stern John for the league lead in goals with 18, Lassiter has scored only four times in his past 20 games (including non-MLS tournaments) after connecting 14 times in his first 15 matches. His only goal in the last eight games was an easy finish against Tampa Bay on Oct. 6.
In some games, Lassiter has not consistently received the ball, but in many others, he has simply missed the target.
"Roy needs to score goals, and Roy knows that," Coach Thomas Rongen said. "It's like a hitter in baseball; the key for Roy right now is not to change anything, just keep plugging away and working hard. I'm convinced it will come again. He's been in great spirits. He just needs to get out of that little valley right now."
Said Lassiter: "I'm a pure goal scorer. I'm about scoring goals and helping my team win the game. When I don't score, sometimes I feel like I'm not doing my job. Thomas has told me, 'Don't worry about it, you're doing everything right.' I'm not worried. When the goals start again, they are really going to come."
United needs his productivity, which has led to 73 goals and 25 assists in 115 regular season games overall. The club did not play well in the final week of the regular season, had a disappointing tie for third place at the CONCACAF Champions Cup and struggled to oust Miami in an MLS first-round playoff series.
D.C. begins the best-of-three Eastern Conference finals against the Columbus Crew at 1 p.m. Sunday at RFK Stadium.
"I'm hoping I don't have to leave, but right now I can't worry about it," Lassiter said. "I have to worry about D.C. United. I want a ring, I want a championship and I want to help this team get there."
United Notes: Rongen said Geoff Aunger will start Sunday in place of defensive midfielder Richie Williams, who is serving a one-game suspension for receiving a red card last week. . . . Midfielder Ben Olsen has a mild hamstring injury, but is expected to be ready for Sunday's game. . . . Defender Carlos Llamosa (sprained knee ligament) did not practice yesterday and remains questionable.
Columbus vs. D.C. United
Sunday: Columbus at D.C. United, 1 p.m.
Nov. 7: D.C. United at Columbus, 1 p.m.
Nov. 13: Columbus at D.C. United, 4 p.m.
Dallas vs. Los Angeles
Sunday: Dallas at Los Angeles, 5:30 p.m.
Nov. 7: Los Angeles at Dallas, 3 p.m.
Nov. 11: Dallas at Los Angeles, 10:30 p.m.
Nov. 21: at Foxboro, Mass.,