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Crafty Crayton leads D.C. from net

WASHINGTON, DC -- Some players are able to approach ordinary matches like cup finals, exuding passion and going to great lengths in search of a result. Based on Saturday night's 1-0 win over Houston, D.C. United goalkeeper Louis Crayton seems to have found that top gear right at the outset of his 2009 campaign as he looks to solidify his role with the Black-and-Red.After missing United's first two games due to injury, the Liberian netminder marked his return to the starting lineup with another memorable performance as he notched the team's first shutout and first victory of the season, making four saves and controlling the flow of the match about as well as a 'keeper possibly can."I was eager and anxious to get back," said a cheerful Crayton afterwards. "I waited for this moment for the last two weeks and I'm happy that I had a lot of fun out there, though we were a man down. I'm grateful that I was able to come up with a good game and the entire team did well."He plainly enjoyed every minute of his evening, bantering with teammates and opponents throughout and apparently even charming stern referee Baldomero Toledo, who ejected his teammate Jaime Moreno for a tackle from behind yet showed forbearance for Crayton's gamesmanship.The veteran 'keeper hit the turf for even the most routine of saves -- afterwards, one fan's blog compared him to a "dying flounder" -- slyly milking the clock as his shorthanded squad protected their lead."He controlled the game," said D.C. boss Tom Soehn. "Obviously an experienced 'keeper -- he managed the momentum of the game and recognized when to slow it down, when to speed it up. I think he did a really good job of that tonight."Crayton's return to the field has special meaning this time, given the trying offseason he recently put behind him. His mother Dora passed away just as training camp got underway in January, prompting a trip home to Liberia to grieve with his family. United gave him their full support, but the bereavement would take a toll on his preparations for the campaign.Like many other European-based players in MLS, he found himself some ways short of full fitness on his return to camp and was hit by a quadriceps strain in his first competitive action of 2009, a Charleston Challenge Cup match against Real Salt Lake."It was the first time he had a long offseason," noted Soehn last week. "He's normally used the European cycle where you get a month in between both [half-]seasons and he basically did what he did in that month, but he did it for two months and it really backfired for him. So he had to make up a lot."Crayton responded to the setbacks with an urgency that is rarely seen in spring. Working his way back up to speed in training, he was soon chomping at the bit as Soehn played it safe with his recovery time and insisted that he prove his worth."It's the first time in my career I've been out so long and I'm really eager and hungry," Crayton said. "The decision for me to play will be that of the technical staff. But right now, they know very well that I am ready. I've given them the time they wanted from me, and so I'm ready to do the job for which I was brought here."After a nomadic career that's taken him through multiple nations and cultures across three continents, Crayton and his family want to make the United States their permanent home. But having arrived at United in midseason last year, he is yet to finalize a contract extension. Forgoing an agent, Crayton represents himself in negotiations and in contrast to most pro athletes, he's refreshingly candid about the responsibilities at his end of the bargain."Right now I need to give D.C. United reasons to re-sign me," he said. "As much as I would want this resolved, I have to give them something to give me an extension to my contract, and I feel that I have not given them reason to give me an extension. But we've had a talk with Dave [Kasper], the general manager and also with [Soehn], so for that part I think they're going to keep their word. I'm optimistic about it, but right now I need to work with the team."