It has been quite a year for Clyde Simms. The North Carolina native's meteoric rise from A-League obscurity to roving the center of the park for the MLS champions -- and now, U.S. international -- has stunned many, not least of which being Simms himself.
"It's still really hasn't hit me," said Simms, still getting a grip on his second call-up to Bruce Arena's squad, announced this week. "But I'm starting to get used to it a little bit. I'm enjoying myself, taking it one day at a time."
Next week Simms will join 18 other players in Chicago as preparation begins for a May 28 international friendly against England at Soldier Field.
Of course, Arena is the one who set the whole sequence in motion back in January, when a contract dispute with the national team players association forced the coach to name a "replacement" squad of college players and minor leaguers as the start of the final round of CONCACAF World Cup qualifiers loomed.
Simms, coming off an excellent year with the A-League's Richmond Kickers, was picked for that roster, and impressed Arena enough to be kept around when the contract showdown was resolved. His discovery has proved to be the silver lining of what was a difficult labor disagreement for U.S. Soccer.
D.C. United, no doubt remembering their humbling U.S. Open Cup loss to the Kickers last July, wasted little time in signing the former East Carolina University standout, and he quickly won Nowak's confidence.
Simms has staked his claim for United's holding midfielder spot, offering a stiff challenge for third-year veteran Brian Carroll. Carroll owned that position last season, leading the team in games started and minutes played, but Nowak relishes training-ground competition for playing time and has rewarded Simms with starts in four of D.C.'s last five matches.
"Honesty," said Nowak when asked what Simms brings to the table. "This is what we're looking for from every single guy, honest work. He makes the players around him better.
"He's a different player than Brian Carroll, but both of them are doing a very good job. Clyde can really read the game very well and he always picks a good spot. He links the play with Christian Gomez and Jaime Moreno. Both of them are very important, but Clyde did pretty well in the last couple of weeks, and that's why he is playing."
Simms also attributes his success at both the club and international level to that same quality.
"Every day I come in and work as hard as possible, whether it's training or in the game," he said. "I'm still getting used to the speed of play, but I'm getting better at it every day."
Simms describes himself as "very surprised" to have received this latest national team invite, but his confidence is clearly growing by leaps and bounds. He displayed a newfound assertiveness in last week's loss at New England, roaming forward and creating one of United's best chances of the day with a long-range blast that Revs netminder Matt Reis had to slap away from the upper corner.
"The more we have the ball, the more chances I'll get around the goal," said Simms. "Hopefully we'll see a lot more of it. Every game I'm getting more and more comfortable with the ball at my feet, with one-time passes and whatnot."
For now, Simms finds himself in the rare position of learning on the job on both the MLS and international scenes.
"I need to work on establishing myself physically in games (at the international level), and become more of a solid defender," he said. "I think that will help a lot. Other than that, (I need to) just get used to the speed of play, because it's even a little bit quicker than in MLS."
Charles Boehm is a conrtibutor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.