Clyde Simms has apparently made the most of an opportunity.
Simms, after training last week with a group of players primarily from the United Soccer Leagues First and Second Divisions, was invited to stay behind and train with the 27 other players being called in by Bruce Arena now that the labor impasse is over for the time being.
Simms is going into his second season as a midfielder with the USL First Division Richmond Kickers and was one of five players from the club to train as a replacement player in US national team camp.
"It’s very exciting," Simms said. "I feel very fortunate to have this opportunity. I’m a little bit nervous, but I’m just going to go out there and do my best. Obviously the fact that I was selected gives me a bit of confidence. I’m not going to worry too much about the outcome because I have nothing to lose."
Simms was in camp last week along with Kickers’ midfielders Joey Worthen and Mike Burke, as well as central defenders Peter Luzak and Kevin Knight.
Simms started 28 of 31 matches last season in his first as a professional, scoring three goals. He previously played two seasons with the Raleigh CASL Elite of the Premier Development League, registering six goals and three assists in 30 games.
"[Arena] said there is a void in the midfield in this camp that he is trying to fill," Simms said. "He said ‘play like you’ve been playing, and you’ll do fine’."
Simms is joined in camp by former USL players Jon Busch, Brian Ching, Jimmy Conrad, Alecko Eskandarian, Pat Noonan, Tony Sanneh and Josh Wolf.
"I think anyone who saw Clyde play in his rookie season can testify that he as a player with a lot of ability," said Kickers coach Leigh Cowlishaw. "I think he started every game but one for us coming out of East Carolina. It’s a wonderful achievement. He can certainly play at the professional level. Clearly coach Arena sees something for the future."
Goalkeeper Nick Rimando, midfiedler Ben Olsen and MLS Cup MVP Eskandarian are representing DC United in the current camp.
Busch played five seasons in the USL First Division with the Hershey Wildcats, Hampton Roads Mariners and Carolina Dynamo. After earning the 1998 PDL Rookie of the Year honor with the Spokane Shadow, Ching was drafted by the LA Galaxy but needed a standout 2002 campaign with the Seattle Sounders before breaking through in MLS and the national team a year later. Conrad played for two seasons for the San Diego Flash and US Pro-40, which also saw Wolfe as a regular in 1998 before his MLS career took off. Eskandarian and Noonan spent time in the PDL with Eskandarian playing two seasons with the North Jersey Imperials and Noonan making his mark with the Michigan Bucks and Kalamazoo Kingdom. Sanneh, who played three seasons with the Minnesota Thunder and Milwaukee Rampage before MLS formed, is a member of the USL Hall of Fame.
"All the USL players had a unique opportunity," Cowlishaw said about the group of USL players in camp last week. "It’s not every day that you get a chance, for whatever amount of time, to be in front of the head coach of the national team. And I’m happy [Simms] was able to impress in such a short time."
Simms is one of four newcomers to US national team training.
“Clyde Simms has slipped through many cracks in the system but his hard work and tremendous attitude have ultimately paid off,” said Kickers general manager Paul Sterbenz. “He is a young player with great potential and is very deserving of his call-up to the national team. I’m truly excited for him.”
The others newcomers include Conrad, a Kansas City Wizards defender, and MLS Rookie of the Year finalist Chad Marshall. Also making his debut appearance for the senior team is Chicago Fire midfielder Justin Mapp, who shined at the youth international level. Mapp, who was loaned to Richmond and Virginia Beach in 2002, started all five matches with the U.S. U-20’s at the FIFA World Youth Championship in the United Arab Emirates in 2003, scoring the game-winning goal against the Ivory Coast to help the squad advance to the quarterfinals of the tournament.
Kickoff at the Queen’s Park Oval is set for 2:30 p.m. ET (3:30 p.m. local), and the match will be broadcast live on ESPN2. Fans can also follow the match live on ussoccer.com’s MatchTracker, presented by Philips Electronics.
The team will train at The Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif., and will depart for Trinidad on Feb. 7 after relocating to South Florida. Several European-based players are expected to join the squad in Florida either Feb. 6 or 7 after competing in their league matches that weekend.
"We certainly have a lot of hard work ahead of us," Arena said. "Trinidad is a very talented opponent with a lot of experience on their roster. We’re happy to be able to focus on the task of getting a result in our first qualifier in the final round."
Goalkeepers (4) – Jon Busch (Columbus Crew), Joe Cannon (Colorado Rapids), Kevin Hartman (Los Angeles Galaxy), Nick Rimando (DC United)
Defenders (8) – Chris Albright (Los Angeles Galaxy), Jimmy Conrad (Kansas City Wizards), Nick Garcia (Kansas City Wizards), Frankie Hejduk (Columbus Crew), Ritchie Kotschau (Colorado Rapids), Chad Marshall (Columbus Crew), Eddie Pope (MetroStars), Tony Sanneh (Columbus Crew)
Midfielders (9) – Clint Dempsey (New England Revolution), Diego Gutierrez (Kansas City Wizards), Justin Mapp (Chicago Fire), Pablo Mastroeni (Colorado Rapids), Clint Mathis (Real Salt Lake), Brian Mullan (San Jose Earthquakes), Ben Olsen (DC United), Steve Ralston (New England Revolution), Clyde Simms (Richmond Kickers)
Forwards (7) – Brian Ching (San Jose Earthquakes), Alecko Eskandarian (DC United), Ed Johnson (FC Dallas), Mike Magee (MetroStars), Pat Noonan (New England Revolution), Taylor Twellman (New England Revolution), Josh Wolff (Kansas City Wizards)
Names of USL players in camp last week:
Goalkeepers (4) – Preston Burpo (Seattle Sounders), Dusty Hudock (Rochester Raging Rhinos), Dan Popik (out of contract, previously Milwaukee Rampage 2002), Joe Warren (Minnesota Thunder)
Defenders (8) – John Ball (Atlanta Silverbacks), Dustin Branan (Minnesota Thunder), Kevin Knight (Richmond Kickers), Peter Luzak (Richmond Kickers), Lars Lyssand (out of contract, previously Syracuse Salty Dogs 2004), Scott Thompson (Portland Timbers), Alan Woods (Atlanta Silverbacks), John Wilson (Rochester Raging Rhinos)
Midfielders (6) – Mike Burke (Richmond Kickers), Justin Evans (Charleston Battery), Freddy Juarez (Minnesota Thunder), Steve Shak (Virginia Beach Mariners), Clyde Simms (Richmond Kickers), Joey Worthen (Richmond Kickers)
Forwards (4) – Jacob Coggins (Charlotte Eagles), Greg Howes (Milwaukee Wave United), Dustin Swinehart (Charlotte Eagles), Ryan Trout (Rochester Raging Rhinos)