With all the pomp that has surrounded the recent graduations of the Black-and-Red, one commencement passed with little circumstance. Assistant coach Mark Simpson received his Bachelor of Arts degree from Eastern Illinois University on May 8.
After finishing his college soccer career at Eastern Illinois, Simpson went immediately into the professional ranks as a player. Starting in the indoor game, he made an impact immediately and would eventually end up in Major League Soccer. After his retirement as a player, he continued to enjoy success, with stints as a goalkeeper coach for the Black-and-Red and an assistant coach for the A-League's Virginia Beach Mariners.
"When I was a goalkeeper coach, I learned a lot," said Simpson. "When I went to Virginia Beach last year as an assistant, I learned a tremendous amount and now I'm just trying to apply it here and help out and learn still more. I have learned more. My personality has come out a bit more, I'm being a little more interactive with the [players] and I feel that my opinions are valued more."
But, something was missing. Simpson left Eastern Illinois a mere 10 credits short of graduation with a degree in Physical Education with a minor in Health. As he considered his future, mulling his options over with his family, he came to a conclusion. Simpson felt he needed to finish his coursework, if only for the sense of accomplishment it would provide.
Simpson looked into his options and found the Board of Trustees Bachelor of Arts degree program. Designed for returning adults, the program rewards students for life experience in addition to any college credits earned. To graduate from the program, candidates are required to complete an "Adults in Transition" course in addition to the normal coursework requirements.
He applied for the program, and after examining his transcripts alongside his resume, officials at Eastern Illinois gave Simpson a much-welcomed surprise. As a result of his successful transition from player to coach, the final requirement was waived, and he would receive his degree with the Class of 2004.
Receiving his degree has opened up many doors. Despite not having the teaching degree he once aspired to have, Simpson can move into a coaching position at the college level, or move into a head coaching position within MLS or another professional league. But, Simpson is happy here. He chose his duties with United over graduation, sitting on the bench as the Black-and-Red took on Columbus on May 8.
"I'm elated to work with Peter [Nowak] and Tommy [Soehn], and to have the chance to work with Kevin [Payne] and Dave [Kasper] again," said Simpson. "[But finishing my degree] was important for my parents and my family. It feels good. Now it's not like I just went to school to play soccer and I don't have anything to show for it. I've done the work and with the program, my degree hangs on the wall, just like any other B.A."
Meanwhile back on the ranch...
Following Saturday's match against Colorado, D.C. United players and coaching staff spent some time on the Anschutz Ranch outside of Denver. Outdoor activities were the norm of the weekend, with fly-fishing, golf and horseback riding dominating the favorites.
Thiago Martins proved himself a dedicated, if not successful, angler, as he vowed to catch a fish before leaving the ranch. He managed to hook one, only to have it get away before he could successfully reel it in.
Alecko Eskandarian saw both ends of the life cycle while touring the ranch. He and David Stokes were lucky enough to witness the birth of a calf while on a horseback ride early on Sunday. Later that day, Eskandarian was in another group that happened upon a dead snake on the backwoods trails.
Following the two days of team bonding activities, the Black-and-Red returned home refreshed and took part in a spirited training session at RFK's training pitch Tuesday morning.
John Roushkolb is a contributor to dcunited.com. His column runs every Tuesday.