For seven seasons with capital club D.C. United, midfielder Clyde Simms developed a reputation beyond the beautiful game. Supporters often regarded the Carolina native as a simple, cordial and down-to-earth veteran, a true pioneer who benefited both club and city.
Now 31 and fresh off his second season in New England, Simms will depart from the soccer world, withdrawing from a two-decade battle with kidney disease. From his rise to federal city stardom to his departure in red, white and blue, we break down the best of Clyde Simms.
The Early Years
As a three-year captain for the East Carolina University Pirates, Simms appeared in 72 matches and logged seven assists. A quietly stellar college campaign left him undrafted, however, forcing the defensive-minded midfielder to join the Richmond Kickers of the United Soccer League (USL). After taking advantage of a surprise invite to the United States National Team Camp in 2005, loyal number 19 earned his first look from a top-tier club, signing with D.C. United on February 25, 2005. Without hesitation, Simms made an impact in the federal city: the unassuming rookie appeared in 26 matches, made 12 starts and solidified his role as a strong decision maker in the middle of the field.
In May 2005, New York Times writer Jack Bell covered Simms' surprising promotion from the minor league Kickers to the U.S. Men's National Team, praising the midfielder's "smart and simple game." Bell continued to define Simms as a key influence in breaking soccer's "white suburban" feel in America, listing the up-and-coming player beside U.S. veterans Eddie Pope, Oguchi Onyewu, DaMarcus Beasley and Eddie Johnson. On May 28, 2005, Simms debuted for Head Coach Bruce Arena, making his only appearance for the U.S. National Team against rival England.
A Capital City Icon
After arriving in D.C. with a humble resume and a willful heart, Simms began building a legacy under Head Coach Peter Nowak. The Polish-born coach took quickly to Simms, inserting the ECU graduate into the starting lineup 26 times in two seasons. Simms rewarded Nowak with brilliant play in the middle of the field.
In his article, Bell described Simms as a player who "does nothing fancy on the field" but "makes decisions and does things that may not be recognized by the casual fan." According to Bell, these "things" worked to slow the dribble of opposing players, force attackers wide and change the pace of the match, allowing teammates to track back on defense. In 2008, D.C. United Head Coach Tom Soehn, Nowak's predecessor, finally took advantage of Simms' skillset, placing the reliable midfielder into the Starting XI for every MLS match. Simms played 2,697 minutes - just three shy of a complete season.
With six months remaining in his storied D.C. United career, Simms served as the focal point of a June 2011 article by Washington Post reporter Steven Groff. Drawing attention to Simms' modest personal life, Groff dialogued about the midfielder's decision to buy a home in Hill East, a Washington D.C. neighborhood between Lincoln Park, RFK Stadium and the Anacostia River. While his teammates commuted from affluent Alexandria, Germantown and Reston, Simms pedaled his Trek bicycle from home to office, embracing the subtleties of life in D.C.
"Clyde fits into his surroundings without fanfare," wrote Groff. "Despite boasting the longest continuous service on United's roster, he has always operated in the shadows-a quiet, industrious defensive midfielder with three goals and seven assists in 165 regular season appearances."
The Beginning of the End
In 2011, after seven brilliant seasons in United's midfield, Simms saw his option declined, making the talented midfielder an eligible commodity during the MLS re-entry draft. On December 12, Simms joined the Revolution, entering only his second MLS locker room.
During his rookie season in New England, Simms started 29 of 30 matches, capping his second consecutive season of 29 starts. An unexpected August trade of team captain Shalrie Joseph thrust the eight-year veteran into a leadership role, one that many believe he already carried. For the remainder of the 2012 season, Simms took control of the black armband, serving as Jay Heaps' trusted skipper.
In November 2012, our very own Senior Editor Corey Major recapped Simms strong 2012 campaign, praising his ability to "help the Revs develop a simple passing mentality" while "contributing to Heap's desire to build out of the back." Major went on to describe Simms as virtually irreplaceable; when injuries plagued the Revolution captain, Heaps tried - and failed - to replace his midfield productivity.
Expecting similar results in 2013, the Revolution plugged Simms into his familiar central midfield spot, only to watch the established veteran post his shortest season to date. Ten appearances later, Simms called it quits, unveiling little-known information about his battle with Segmental Glomerulosclerosis.
"I've never really talked about this because I always chose the mind over matter approach, but my health has gotten to a point where I can no longer do that," Simms said. "When I was a freshman in high school, we discovered that I suffered from Focal Segmental Glomerulosclerosis (FSGS), the same kidney disease as Alonzo Mourning. When I started playing with D.C., my kidney function was around 50 percent, and the last three years of my career, it has gotten down to about 20 percent."
After falling in love with the sport as a young child, Simms vowed to persevere through any obstacle; the intelligent midfielder from North Carolina wanted nothing more than a memorable soccer career. In the end, he elected to fight another battle.
"Thank you to all the fans, teammates, and coaches that supported me and helped me along my journey," Simms concluded. "To the Richmond Kickers, D.C. United and the New England Revolution, thank you for allowing me to be a part of your families. I will always be a fan. And to my family and people closest to me, thank you for allowing me to follow my dream."
For many New Englanders, Clyde Simms will always represent a short-term replacement for Shalrie Joseph - a stop-gap between young midfielder Scott Caldwell and veteran Andy Dorman. But for those who understand the complexity of the situation, the legacy of this simple, cordial and down-to-earth man will always transcend the beautiful game.
From everyone at The Bent Musket, we wish Clyde a healthy 2014 and a healthier future.
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