WASHINGTON – No one would have begrudged Jed Zayner a bit of dejection when he was traded from the Columbus Crew to D.C. United back in August. The fifth-year pro not only had to leave behind a first-place team to join the league’s stragglers, he was also departing the city where he’d spent his entire pro career and moving further away from his Indiana roots.
But the 25-year-old defender has made the most of the switch. Zayner quickly won the respect of his new coaches and colleagues and seized the chance to play a much larger role than he’d enjoyed with the Crew. In two months with United, he’s already made as many appearances as he did in half a season in Columbus.
“It’s a great organization,” Zayner said this week. “I’m really happy and I take a lot of pride in wearing the DC colors, especially because the fans are amazing. Our support is awesome. It makes you want to play that much harder for a team like that. So I’m really excited to be playing here.”
Zayner’s progress was highlighted after last week’s defeat to San Jose, when interim coach Ben Olsen singled him out for praise on another night of frustration for the Black-and-Red.
“He plays like a man out there,” Olsen said. “We need more guys like him who are focused and play each play.”
In doing so, Zayner seems to have earned himself the only prize left within the reach of United’s players this year: a prime spot on next season’s DC squad.
“Jed’s been great,” reiterated Olsen after Tuesday’s training session. “I think he’s played three different positions already and in that short span he’s been with us, we’ve been very impressed with not only his on-the-field performances, but off the field, he’s a very good guy in the locker room and guys seem to have taken to him.”
Zayner does not possess the imposing size or speed of a prototypical defender. But he’s shown instinct and intelligence in a series of effective performances at both outside back and central back and his communication skills have been helpful for the entire back line.
His time with Columbus also gave him a keen understanding of what transforms an average team into a champion. After several seasons of struggle, former coach Sigi Schmid’s long-term rebuilding plan finally paid off with a 2008 MLS Cup championship and the Crew have been consistently competitive ever since.
“It was a great situation in Columbus where I was more of the young guy, I was the guy that was having to learn from the veterans and pass it on to the younger guys in the future,” Zayner explained. “So it was a nice preparation to go from last place to first place in Columbus and learn from the older guys, and now I’m trying to reciprocate that back to other guys on the team in a good, mild manner.”
Zayner believes his DC teammates can achieve the same turnaround and he cites a familiar metaphor to remind them that this year’s pain and suffering can pay off down the line.
“In America, it’s all about the short term, what can happen right now,” he said. “But I keep on telling people that a diamond takes a long time to become a diamond. It’s the small, little things that we do right now that’s going to take us into the playoffs next year.
“That’s what we’ve got to be thinking about: The little things day in, day out are going to take us further in the future.”