Perkins ready for new D.C. challenge

WASHINGTON -- Troy Perkins first arrived at D.C. United like a thief in the night, joining the club as an undrafted rookie in 2004 with few prospects for meaningful playing time. Initially ranking third on the team's goalkeeping depth chart, his modest developmental salary famously prompted him to moonlight at a northern Virginia sporting goods store to make ends meet, which made his eventual rise from humble reserve to 2006 MLS Goalkeeper of the Year one of the more compelling stories in the club's recent history.Six years later, the Springfield, Ohio native returns to United under dramatically different circumstances.His decision to come home from a two-year stint in the Norwegian Tippeligaen sparked United into a frenetic bout of dealmaking with Philadelphia Union to jump to the front of the league allocation order, a step made necessary by Perkins' slow but steady progress in the U.S. national team pool, as the Black-and-Red pulled out all the stops to shore up their goalkeeping situation with a familiar face.The final cost to United -- a first-round SuperDraft pick, skillful Brazilian playmaker Fred and a chunk of allocation cash -- leaves little doubt: Troy Perkins is a franchise player now."Yeah," he acknowledged with a chuckle last week, speaking over the phone from national team camp in California. "A little bit more expectations put on my shoulders and a little bit of pressure. But that's OK. I can deal with that. I think D.C. did give up a lot to get that pick in the [allocation] draft, but I'm hoping to make it worth their while."His club has reason to appreciate their once and future shot-stopper. No less than six players have manned the United nets since Perkins' departure and few have been able to truly make the position their own for more than a few weeks at a time. The D.C. braintrust has little regrets about the substantial price they've paid to address not just one, but two of their squad's most glaring needs."We're comfortable with what we gave up, because we're very comfortable with Troy. And priority No. 1 was to get a goalkeeper in the offseason and that's what we've accomplished," said new head coach Curt Onalfo."Outside of looking at just your players individually, you have to have certain building blocks to have a successful team and leadership is crucial to that. So that was another reason why we felt Troy was an excellent fit for this team. D.C. United is in his heart and soul, and that's important to us."The decision to return from Europe was not an easy one for Perkins. He was well-loved by fans and teammates at Valerenga IF, the club in suburban Oslo he helped lead to a Norwegian cup title in 2008, and he harbored hopes of moving up to a top-tier league in England or Germany like many U.S. players before him. But last year a new arrival dramatically changed the outlook for him and his wife Betsy, as they welcomed their son Jackson into the world."We'd been trying to go to bigger leagues in Europe," explained Perkins. "But unfortunately I'm not a number one or number two with the national team. I'm not 6-4, 220 lbs. So you're kind of limited there. No one wants to spend the money on a goalkeeper."So we tried that in the summer and we sat down after that, and my wife and I had many discussions about what was the most important thing for us. And there is a point in life where you say, it's about the other two people in your family and not just you."Strict language requirements prevented Betsy from working as a pharmacist in Norway and the sense of isolation from loved ones back home only grew more acute after Jackson's birth."You have to put your family first," said Perkins, "and being closer to his family and our support group around us was something we looked at and really wanted to have -- that opportunity for him to be with his grandparents more."But he sees his exposure to "the mentality of European football," the constant pressure to improve in training and perform for fans, as a crucial step in his own development -- a testing experience for the man who had already established himself as a noted workaholic in his first United stint."It is a different mentality than here," Perkins said. "They may not be as athletic and quick, but they have the overall mentality of structure and technique. They're constantly training technique and just the little things from a young age, and they're involved in that program from a young age. So that's the big difference from there to the U.S."The two years we had there -- I don't even know how to describe them. They were more than what I wanted, and more than what I ever expected. I learned a lot about the game and about myself, and I feel I've really grown in both areas."Charles Boehm is a contributor to