Guppy crosses pond, fits right in

D.C. United's newest regular has made a strong impression right from the start -- on the field as well as in the locker room.

Last month, on the same day United announced his signing, Steve Guppy flew directly from his native England to Kingston, Jamaica to join the squad for the second leg of their CONCACAF Champions Cup quarterfinal against Harbour View FC.

Having barely met his teammates, Guppy entered the match as a second-half substitute and set up Jamil Walker for the game-tying goal mere moments later. United went on to win the match 2-1 and move on to the next round of the competition, and from the outset, Guppy's dry wit has proven just as incisive as his crosses from the left wing.

"Steve barely got off the plane before we started making fun of him, and he started making fun of us," said United veteran Ben Olsen, who knows something about the birthplace of football from his loan spell at Nottingham Forest during the 2000-2001 season.

"The British have such great humor, and this team is a bunch of clowns, so he's come here and fit in great. The guys love him, and he fits in with our system as well."

Guppy has soaked up the good-natured ribbing, and dished out a bit of his own as well.

"I enjoy that side of things," he said. "It's the same wherever you play, and I quite enjoy playing on it a little bit, to be honest. Don't get me wrong -- I give it as good as I get. They don't let me get away with a lot, but I'm doing the same to them."

Guppy joins Christian Gomez as D.C.'s second senior international signing in the past year. While both players arrived somewhat unheralded by the media and team observers, they are intelligent players who have contributed to the cause immediately.

In adding Guppy, United president/CEO Kevin Payne and technical director Dave Kasper hope to address the departure of veteran midfielder Earnie Stewart, both in terms of positional play and team chemistry.

Stewart's wealth of experience proved a calming influence on a young team during the tumultuous 2004 season, while his astute wing play and knack for crucial goals helped power the Black-and-Red's late run to MLS Cup glory.

Guppy offers many of the same qualities, having roamed the touchlines for some of Britain's most storied clubs, including Leicester City, Leeds United and Scottish giants Celtic. He even earned a national team cap in 1999, donning the England jersey for a 2-1 victory against Belgium.

"I hope I can help in any way that I can," he said. "But we've got plenty of lads who've got experience in the team, at the national level and playing in this league for a number of years."

While Guppy is understated about his own resume, his brief time in MLS has already prompted praise that might surprise the more jaded observer.

"It's a different style of football, really," he said. "In England it's a little bit more 'route one'-ish than it is here, especially with D.C. We like to try and build up from the back, which you do take chances when you do that, but I think it's the right way to go.

"I've been impressed with the fitness levels of the guys, and also their performance levels too -- some good control, some very good players."

Guppy's top priority is adapting his fitness to the U.S. game's relentless pace and hotter climate, although he's tending to some loose ends off the field as well.

"My girlfriend's coming over (from England), (and) I'm looking for an apartment at the moment," he says. "I think that's very important -- I've known from previous clubs I've joined that you need to get out of the hotel as quick as you can.

"I don't know my way around at the moment, I haven't got a car, so there's a lot I need to do. And once that all falls into place, then hopefully I can just concentrate solely on soccer. That's exactly what I'm here to do and that's what I want to be doing."

Charles Boehm is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.


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