D.C. drops trialist after goal explosion

and six goals -- can make. Uruguayan striker Claudio Ciccia, one of the world's most prolific strikers (statistically, at least), arrived in Washington last week to a muted buzz of speculation, aided in large part by D.C. United's recent scoring woes.

In 2002-2003, Ciccia set alight Costa Rica's Primera Division with 41 goals for Club Sport Cartaginés, the second-highest tally in the world for that season. At the time of his arrival, D.C. United was averaging 1.14 goals a game, with a revolving door policy being used to fill the striker's spot opposite Jaime Moreno. The sober reality of Freddy Adu's learning curve was becoming apparent, while Ronald Cerritos and Alecko Eskandarian both seemed to have lost their cutting edge. Cerritos was certainly judged so, having been released on June 21.

A tall, left-footed South American with a nose for goal must have seemed like a tantalizing proposition. When asked last week about a possible influx of southern talent, Coach Peter Nowak quickly responded, "It doesn't really matter, they could be from Nepal.

"All I said is, they're supposed to be good. We always look for a guy who can make a difference at the end of the season, because it's going to be very important for us."

But being more than a month out of season, Ciccia's fitness was lacking, a condition quickly exposed by the 90-degree temperatures and stifling humidity of D.C.'s summertime weather. He was unspectacular in training matches, though in his defense, sometimes lacking in quality service.

And to United's credit, they demurred, announcing on Tuesday that Ciccia's trial was over and that no contract would be offered. As with over-the-hill English legend Paul Gascoigne in 2002, the temptation to take a glance was understandable. But clear-eyed reality eventually overcame nostalgia and publicity considerations, a healthy sign of restraint despite the team's scoring drought.

Of course, it's easier to be restrained three days after that same team suddenly slaps half a dozen goals on its biggest rival, assuming first place in the Eastern Conference in the process.

United's 6-2 demolition of the MetroStars on Saturday was pulse-quickening stuff for United fans and a vindication for Nowak. With five goals in his last three games, Eskandarian seems to have blossomed into an opportunistic finisher ideal for running off of Moreno's possession wizardry.

Ciccia will likely be welcomed back to Costa Rica with open arms and a new contract, but the opportunity to shine on a bigger stage has vanished in the midsummer heat.

Meanwhile, another United trialist seems to have a more promising future, if only the paperwork would arrive. 18-year-old midfielder Nana Kuffour has been training with D.C. for weeks now, having signed a developmental contract on May 6. The diminutive teenager from Ghana has looked impressive in practice, but he is ineligible for the United game roster without the proper documents from his former clubs.

Apparently an agent has been brought in to speed the process, though the official club line is that "there is no timeline for him to join the club." Nana speaks the same Ghanaian dialect as Freddy Adu; no doubt club officials and local journalists are looking forward to a "Ghanaian Connection" in future years. If that sounds far-fetched, consider this: D.C. United is in the early planning stages for a winter tour of Africa, with Ghana and Libya mentioned as possible destinations.

Charles Boehm is a contributor to This story was not subject to approval by MLS or its clubs.

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