After giving up two goals in the first 18 minutes of the 2006 season, D.C. United's back line has buckled down in a big way, allowing just one goal in the subsequent 342 minutes since falling behind 2-0 to the New York Red Bulls in their opening match on April 2. Fullbacks Bobby Boswell, Facundo Erpen, Brandon Prideaux and John Wilson have all contributed to this impressive upturn, along with the rapidly improving play of goalkeeper Troy Perkins.
But as D.C.'s reshuffled defense rounds into form, five-year veteran Bryan Namoff finds himself working harder than ever just to stay in the hunt for his old starting spot. Namoff has been battling a left groin strain he sustained during preseason training, and the perplexing injury has resisted his recovery efforts so far.
"I've been to see just about anyone and everyone," said the Bradley University product. "I finally saw a nerve specialist, and they think it's related to the hernia surgery I had in late July of last year. Currently, they believe it's a nerve that's been impeded by some scar tissue."
Namoff is one of several United players to undergo sports hernia surgery in recent years, including Ryan Nelsen, Christian Gomez and Alecko Eskandarian. But the lingering scar tissue from Namoff's operation has impeded the intricate interplay between the groin and abdominal muscles, complicating his situation and threatening his hopes of returning to the first 11.
"It's causing a lot of pain and it's causing the muscles to tighten," he explained. "It's been a frustrating process, because originally we thought it was just a muscle problem. (But) that didn't have a chance to really heal by itself, and so now we've found out it's the nerve irritation."
After moving from midfield into defense early in his pro career, the 26-year-old became a constant presence in the back line during United's 2004 MLS Cup run, earning a reputation for fitness, durability and hard-nosed tackling-even as he grew more confident in venturing forward to aid his side's attack.
But this troublesome injury has hindered that development and might require further surgery, which could set him back another month. It's a prospect he's hoping to avoid "at all costs," but his only other alternative is to play through the pain and try to break up the scar tissue.
"You've just got to see how your body reacts to it and how it feels," said Namoff. "So I've been trying to get back to a certain percentage, to see if I can play throughout the season, surgery being the last option. I've started to train (with the team), and my percentage has definitely increased each and every day. So it's kind of a waiting game, I guess."
United fans were encouraged to see Namoff make his first appearance of the year against New York last Saturday as a late-game substitute for Brandon Prideaux. But he's clearly got some rust to shake off, especially with a left groin that's still not trustworthy at match speed.
"The fitness has never really been a problem. I can get fit pretty quickly," he said. "I've been playing through (the injury), it just feels like it's very weak and could strain at any point in time. I don't know if it's playing tricks on my body, or if the muscle is actually really strong."
When he finally does fully recover, Namoff is confident that he can adjust to United's recent tactical adjustments, which he sees as a main factor in his teammates' strong performances thus far.
"Yeah, it's definitely an interesting way that we've changed up our formation this year, and it's to our benefit," he said. "We've played well. We still need to knock out a few of the kinks. It's early season, so there's going to be a few mistakes here and there, but we've notched some wins and we haven't lost at home, which is great."
Charles Boehm is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.