Troy Perkins commenced his professionalcareer on a meteoric trajectory from undrafted rookie reservist to MLSGoalkeeper of the Year in less than 36 months, with a move to test himself onthe European stage a year later and entrance into the U.S. national teamgoalkeepers’ pool another 12 months after that.
A fanatical worker on the field as well asin the film and weight rooms, it’s understandable that he would chafe at any stagnationin his game. But at the moment, that’s exactly what’s on his mind as he findshimself leading a last-place team in what was supposed to be a triumphanthomecoming to the club where he made his name.
D.C. United own the most porous defense inMajor League Soccer. Every single member of the back line has had a role inallowing at least one of the 11 goals conceded in four matches this year, butthe burden of doubt inevitably falls on the ‘keeper in such situations –especially if that ‘keeper’s return to town cost his club a hefty compensationpackage in order to cut in line for the dispersal draft order.
“They brought me back for that reason andunfortunately, I haven’t lived up to it,” said Perkins on Saturday, when askedabout the pressure of being seen as D.C.’s defensive savior on his return fromNorway. “That’s something that I’ve got to be able to move on with and movepast, and try not to do it to myself – put too much pressure on myself.
“But saying that,” he added with a slightshake of his head, “I’m almost 29 years old, played a hundred-and-some matches.I’ve got to be able just to play.”
Relatively few members of theBlack-and-Red have distinguished themselves this season, while many others havebeen confined to the injured list, and collective confidence has dwindled tocripplingly low levels, with Perkins’ case a prime example.
Typically steady and statesmanlike in thenets, his previous United stint stood in contrast with the revolving-doorsequence of ‘keepers that followed him and he was seen as a natural leader fora youngish 2010 squad.
The Ohioan has routinely been hung out todry by his defense and is averaging four saves a game. But he’s also beencaught making fundamental errors – most notably on Sébastian LeToux’sgame-winning free-kick goal in Philadelphia two weeks ago – and hesitance hascrept in at most inopportune moments, with jangling nerves hinting at adesperate determination to carry his team.
“When you look at the games we’ve playedand we’ve lost, it’s tough to have confidence,” admitted Perkins, one ofthe last players to leave RFK Stadium after Saturday’s dispiriting 2-0 loss tothe Fire. “But we’ve got to be able to find it. We’re playing well for a longperiod of time, [yet] we can’t get goals and we can’t stop conceding them."
Perkins is keenly aware that he’s notplaying up to his potential and the coaching staff is actually urging him torelax and keep his own expectations in check, regardless of the team’sshortcomings as a whole.
Said D.C. goalkeepers coach Mark Simpson, “It’sjust a matter of telling him to calm down and do the things that he’s capableof, and not try to set himself up to make spectacular saves and just takingcare of the ones that he should save.
“There’s a lot of pressure with him comingin and a lot of talk of how much better we’re going to be with him,” Simpsoncontinued. “He just needs to relax and just let his play take care ofeverything else that goes on on the field.”