United's McTavish working to overcome obstacles

WASHINGTON -- Devon McTavish seemed to have nearly everything go right during the early stages of his career. Quietly joining D.C. United via the 2006 supplemental draft after a strong career at West Virginia University, the Winchester, Va. native rapidly ascended from developmental player to established senior squad member, performing well in a wide variety of roles and often winning playing time ahead of older and more established teammates.McTavish's versatility and consistency was duly rewarded with a new contract this past January. But he's since been hit with adversity in both the personal and professional spheres, starting with a frightening head gash in D.C.'s season opener, caused by a collision with teammate Greg Janicki, that required seven staples. After that inauspicious start, he's found his opportunities with United's first team scarce due in large part to the club's deep pool of talent."They went out and got some very good players in the offseason and I don't think I came in and made an impression in preseason," he acknowledged earlier this year. The 24-year-old has earned two starts and 231 minutes in league play this season."So these guys are definitely in the spot and it's tough to complain, sitting on the bench when the team is doing well. The only thing I can really do is keep working on the game, try and stay fit and push the guys in front of me as much as possible. That's one thing that has been frustrating for me -- I don't think I've been able to do that, for whatever reason."Meanwhile, he and his family have been rocked by his father's diagnosis with Crohn's disease, the chronic intestinal condition that he himself has battled for more than eight years.While his son has been able to maintain a more-or-less normal routine despite the disease, Patrick McTavish has endured far more severe symptoms and has been unable to continue his job or maintain the outdoor-oriented lifestyle that he cherishes. With Crohn's, the gastrointestinal tract is attacked by the body's own immune system and the resulting inflammation leads to pain and discomfort that flares up suddenly and unpredictably."I don't think he's been to work since early May," said the younger McTavish. "It's tough -- he's the most active guy I've ever met. He never likes sitting at home and doing nothing, and he's been doing that for months. It's been tough."A range of medications have had little effect, necessitating a surgical procedure at the University of Virginia Medical Center in Charlottesville, Va. last month. As someone intimately familiar with the constant burden of Crohn's, Devon believes that his father's case will improve but in the meantime he has had to watch him struggle with the disease's demoralizing effects."Trying to get him to realize that he will get better, it's probably the most frustrating part," said McTavish. "Anyone with Crohn's knows how frustrating it is to not be able to live your daily life. There's other diseases out there like that: it takes a toll on you mentally and it's just frustrating."The McTavish family has taken an active role with the Crohn's and Colitis Foundation of America and Devon was gratified by the generosity shown by United fans after he made a personal appeal for their participation in CCFA's "Take Steps" event in D.C. last month. The family was able to bring in more than $4,000 in donations for Crohn's research, an area that is particularly important given how little is known about the disease's origins."They're still learning. When I got diagnosed, they said it's a big genetic problem, so it's obviously passed on through the generations," said McTavish. "I think a lot of family members have stomach issues and it's never really been diagnosed before. I think I was the first one. Hopefully it's just my Dad and I for now."On the field, McTavish has tried to make the most of a significant role in United's U.S Open Cup run. The fourth-year pro has played well both in defense and on the right wing, earning praise from head coach Tom Soehn, who expects to use him more regularly as D.C. kicks off CONCACAF Champions League action alongside league and cup obligations. He's certainly been impressed by McTavish's resilience throughout his father's ordeal."I think in some respects, the job is what gives you resolve, when you come to work and forget about life for a little while," said Soehn.McTavish's teammates have taken notice as well."Going through these different obstacles, I think, just makes him a better player, allows him to push through -- that's the guy that I want on my team," said right back Bryan Namoff. "He's just a really good professional. He's not a guy that you'll ever see complain. He goes out and he does his job and he'll play wherever he's needed. He sacrifices for the team."