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Right time, right place for D.C.'s Simms

For D.C. United rookie Clyde Simms, it is not a matter of if he is going to play. It is more of a matter of how much -- and where.

United coach Peter Nowak has used the talented young player in two different positions already this preseason -- holding midfielder and center back. It would be a surprise to no one if he sees action in nearly every spot on the field before the season is over.

Considering five months ago Simms was barely a blip on the MLS radar, he has come a long way. But all it takes is a break, and the second-year pro got that break and has made the most of it.

Simms was living in Greenville, N.C., having just completed his degree at East Carolina University, preparing for his second season with USL First Division club Richmond when he got the call.

Actually it was a warning call, from one of his coaches with the Kickers.

"He called to tell me it wasn't a joke," Simms said. "He said I was on a list of guys that could get called into the national team camp. I didn't know anything about the strike."

The strike Simms referred to was the disagreement between the USSF and the U.S. National Team Players Association. Simms was one of 24 USL players called in to prepare for the first match of the final round of World Cup qualifying on the off chance that the regular national team players refused, or were not allowed to play.

After a week an agreement was reached and the replacement players were sent home -- everyone but Simms.

"At the time, I thought they had probably asked a couple of guys to stay," Simms said. "I found out the next morning I was the only one."

That opened some eyes around the league. Nowak was aware of Simms, having played Richmond in the U.S. Open Cup, but did not know the extent of his talents.

"During the first couple of days with the regular national team players, we asked Benny Olsen and Nick Rimando about him," Nowak said. "They sent back unbelievable reports about him. They said he would be a great addition to our team, and we are very fortunate that we were able to sign Clyde."

"From the beginning I saw that he had the D.C. United mentality," Olsen said. "He's a guy who is versatile. There are so many different places where he can fit in, we just have to find the best place for him."

During his college career, Simms was used as an attacking midfielder, a role he also served the first half of the season with Richmond. Injuries forced Simms to the flank for the second half of the season. But because of his pace and athleticism, Nowak moved Simms back into the holding midfielder spot, where Simms spent most of the preseason.

He came on as a subsitute in United's 1-0 win against the Los Angeles Galaxy in Hawaii. But more importantly, he was the first substitute used in United's 2-1 CONCACAF Champions Cup first-leg victory against Jamaica's Harbour View FC in Maryland.

"It was so cold that night. I remember going into the game and my feet were still frozen," Simms said. "It was nice to get in a game like that rather than having someone get injured and have to go in and start. Kind of ease my way into things."

If there is one place United is not thin, it is at holding midfielder. Nowak has several experienced players who easily and competently fit into that role, which is why he is looking at other places on the field for Simms.

"He is very athletic and versatile," Nowak said. "He can play several different positions. We are still trying to figure out exactly what is the best place for Clyde -- maybe the holding midfielder, maybe wide, or maybe in the back."

Last Saturday in United's 2-0 loss to San Jose at the Carolina Challenge Cup, Simms played the entire match at the holding midfielder position behind Freddy Adu. The team United fielded was almost entirely made up of reserve players. On Tuesday, Simms came on at halftime at center back in a 2-2 draw against the Charleston Battery of the USL.

"I was very pleased with the way Clyde played in back," Nowak said after the Charleston game. "I think there was some things he could have done better, but overall it was a very good effort."

"There is lots of room for improvement," Simms said of his performance this preseason. "I'm just trying to get better every day."

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