Chinese striker moves into the starting lineup
Among his teammates at forward are D.C. United's biggest offseason acquisition, a Brazilian with more than a half-dozen goals and Major League Soccer's reigning MVP. He is still shy with his English and an unrefined finisher in front of the net.
Long Tan had plenty of reasons not to expect much playing time with D.C. United after he was acquired from Vancouver in late June. Instead, he got his first start in just his fourth match in D.C., a reflection of a playing style that captivated United coach Ben Olsen and the inconsistent summer form of his higher-priced teammates.
"I think just maybe a couple months I can play," Tan said. "But I don't think it would be so quickly, and so thanks to the coach believing in me. I try to do my best and help the team make points, make a win."
|D.C. United at Sporting K.C.|
|When »||Saturday, 8:30 p.m.|
|Where »||Livestrong Sporting||Park, Kansas City, Kan.|
|In need of reinforcements following injuries to starting outside backs Robbie Russell (foot) and Daniel Woolard (concussion), D.C. United acquired Mike Chabala from the Portland Timbers in exchange for a 2014 supplemental draft pick. To make room on the roster, the team also announced the retirement of midfielder Kurt Morsink, who is set to remain with the club as scouting coordinator.|
The 24-year-old Chinese striker has only one goal in a season and a half in MLS -- he scored the game-winning goal against D.C. United in Vancouver last October. But his rise has been steady since he came to the U.S. in 2008. He progressed through the minor leagues and joined the Whitecaps for their inaugural MLS season, but he fell out of favor with first-year Vancouver coach Martin Rennie after complaining about playing time on Twitter.
The baggage hasn't set him back in D.C., where he has impressed with his relentless work rate. He fearlessly tried to back-heel the ball into the net on the play that led to the only goal in United's 1-0 win over Columbus last weekend.
"[Olsen] talk to me, and he want me to run behind," Tan said. "I'm not strong player, and for me it's very important to run behind and make the chance for teammate and somebody can score a goal."
In the same game, United's second highest-paid player, Hamdi Salihi (five goals), was a healthy scratch, and Maicon Santos (seven goals, two assists) was reduced to a reserve role. While Chris Pontius (10 goals) has thrived at forward and outside midfield -- he seems likely to get a call to the U.S. national team for next week's friendly against Mexico in Mexico City -- Dwayne De Rosario (five goals, 10 assists) also has struggled since reaching the 98 career MLS goals mark, failing to find the net in United's last seven games.
"I think right now the forward crew all offer different things," Olsen said. "Right now Tan's work off the ball has really helped us. It's something we need on the field right now. That's not to say the other two [Salihi and Santos] don't have qualities that I am going to need for a different game or different period of the season. But right now I just feel like Tan's busyness has helped us."