Former D.C. United defender and captain Ryan Nelsen will ply his trade in the English Premier League, having signed an 18-month contract with Blackburn Rovers on Thursday.
Nelsen joins Blackburn, whose starting goalkeeper is former Columbus Crew 'keeper Brad Friedel, in a relegation fight. With 16 matches left in the EPL campaign, Rovers sit two places and six points above the relegation zone. A large part of the problem for the club this season has been a leaky defense, something Nelsen, the captain of New Zealand's national team, could help fix.
Nelsen's contract with United expired after the 2004 season. He impressed Blackburn in trials in December and talked to Blackburn's official website Thursday about how excited he his to be joining the club.
"I feel great. It is a fantastic club here," Nelsen told the website. "I'm so happy that I can now roll my sleeves up and get to work."
Nelsen spent four seasons at the heart of United's defense, playing in a total of 81 regular season games and starting 78 of them. The central defender also started each of the club's six playoff matches during his time in Washington, D.C., including four matches in United's run to their fourth MLS Cup title in 2004. He was named an MLS All-Star twice in his tenure with United.
Nelsen's departure leaves United with a bit of work to do to find a replacement, though the fact that Bryan Namoff has already re-signed with the club provides the team with some cover. United Technical Director Dave Kasper, who along with Peter Nowak will be tasked with replacing Nelsen, wished Nelsen well on his move to England.
"We're sad to see Ryan Nelsen move on from D.C. United, but are very happy for him personally as he's a class individual," Kasper said. "Nellie enjoyed tremendous success both on and off of the field in his four years here and was a huge part of our championship this past season. We wish him the best of luck with Blackburn Rovers."
Jason Halpin is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.