His play will speak for itself Soccer: Columbia's Clint Peay, who has a degree in rhetoric and communications from Virginia, is rebounding from a spring in which his Olympic status was uncertain

Atlanta Olympics

July 21, 1996|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,SUN STAFF

For someone with a degree in rhetoric and communications, Clint Peay had a terrible time explaining why he spent much of the spring on the bubble of the U.S. men's Olympic soccer team.

Peay started at left back for the U.S. under-23 against Argentina, one of the medal favorites, in Birmingham, Ala. He knew little but winning at Oakland Mills High in Columbia and the University of Virginia, but considering his shaky status of early spring, a part of Peay is simply relieved.

"I wasn't starting anymore, I wasn't really playing," Peay said of his Olympic status in March. "I wasn't told much of anything, and I didn't understand why. I knew I wasn't playing my best, but I didn't think I was sticking out like a sore thumb.

"Maybe my confidence level dropped a bit, but for some reason or another, I picked it back up. Improved decision-making, I guess that goes along with urgency of the situation. Maybe I became more aggressive, a better team organizer, communicator, a little bit of everything. But really, I don't know why I was in that position."

Bruce Arena, who has guided Peay through four NCAA titles at Virginia, the maiden season of Major League Soccer with D.C. United and now on the Olympic team, had a decidedly different take.

"In March and April, it was possible he wasn't going to make it [the Olympic team]," Arena said. "He had to cut down on the mental mistakes, and I think he's done much better with that. . . . Clearly, Clint had to cut down on the things he got away with in college, where they didn't amount to anything. Here, our defense has got to be very clear on what they're doing."

Peay is hardly daunted by facing players of World Cup caliber.

He's been a fixture on U.S. youth teams through much of the 1990s. Peay has played on every continent except Africa and Australia, and was ready to visit the latter before a massive knee injury in December 1992 ended his captaincy of the under-20s.

After reconstructive knee surgery, Peay became one of four players in a class that helped Arena set college soccer history with their third and fourth straight NCAA titles. When Arena left the Cavaliers to coach D.C. United, he again called on Peay.

"The advantage that Clint had, since I coached both teams, is that he was being observed and getting feedback every day," Arena said. "Since late fall, he's been more serious about soccer. He's been more professional. This is what he's doing for a living now, and he understands that."

It's summertime, but the living isn't necessarily easy for professional rookies like Peay. He's gaining valuable experience with D.C. United, but Peay is hardly pleased with the MLS salary structure. The base pay for marquee players like teammate John Harkes is $175,000, a long way from the $24,000 minimum.

Hamisi Amani-Dove, who played at Wilde Lake High and Rutgers, is with the Olympic team as an alternate. He's negotiating to play with Az, a first division team in the Netherlands, and Peay knows that the grass is greener in Europe.

There is also the matter of Peay continuing his climb up the national ladder.

Seven members of the 1992 Olympic team were on the national team two years later for the World Cup, but there isn't going to be another mass progression like that for France in 1998. For all of the trouble Peay experienced in his shift from center to left back, opportunity on the national team may be better there.

He knows that national coach Steve Sampson will watch the Olympics with a scout's eye.

"Oh yeah, anytime you play, you know Steve [Sampson] is going to be watching," Peay said. "Whether it's from the MLS or filter systems like this, the national team has to get some younger players. Highlight tapes, word-of-mouth, whatever, you're always trying to do your best. Not only for Steve, but for teams elsewhere that you're trying to impress."

The Peay file

Name: Clint Peay Height: 6-0 Weight: 165 Age: 22, b. Sept. 16, 1973 Hometown: Columbia High school: Oakland Mills College: Virginia MLS club: D.C. United Briefly: Two-time Parade All-American at Oakland Mills, which he helped to two state titles. . . . Four-year starter during Virginia's unprecedented run to four NCAA titles. . . . Two-time all-ACC choice. . . . Holds degree in rhetoric and communications. . . . Captain of U.S. under-20 team in 1992. . . . Started for U.S. in Pan American and World University Games.

Pub Date: 7/21/96

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