Under normal circumstances this late in the season, D.C. United would be deeply distressed by the absence of forward Alecko Eskandarian, the team's co-leader in goals who will miss today's match at New England because of a sprained left ankle.
But considering the anxiety caused when Eskandarian injured himself at Wednesday's practice session, the club is just thankful he'll be around at all.
Alecko Eskandarian, hugging Jaime Moreno (99), suffered an ankle sprain Wednesday in practice. Players heard a "pop," said Coach Peter Nowak.
(Jonathan Newton -- The Washington Post)
_____United vs. Revolution_____
Where: Gillette Stadium, Foxboro, Mass.
When: 4 p.m.
Radio: WMET-1160, WACA-1540 (Spanish), WYSK-1350 (Spanish), WPWC-1480 (Spanish).
Records: United 6-8-8, Revolution 5-9-8.
D.C. Probable Starters (3-5-2 formation): GK Troy Perkins; Ds Bryan Namoff, Mike Petke, Brandon Prideaux; MFs Earnie Stewart, Dema Kovalenko, Ben Olsen, Freddy Adu, Josh Gros; Fs Christian Gomez, Jaime Moreno.
New England Probable Starters (4-4-2): GK Matt Reis; Ds Jay Heaps, Rusty Pierce, Avery John, Marshall Leonard; MFs Steve Ralston, Shalrie Joseph, Jose Cancela, Pat Noonan; Fs Clint Dempsey, Taylor Twellman.
"I'm glad it's not a severe injury that would put him away for the rest of the season," Coach Peter Nowak said yesterday. "I didn't really recognize it at the first moment [that Eskandarian got hurt], but the guys around him told me that they heard it pop, and that was pretty scary. I'm glad for Alecko -- I just hope he's going to be back sooner rather than later."
Eskandarian, a second-year pro from the University of Virginia, is tied in goals (seven) with his frontline partner, Jaime Moreno, and had a sensational long-range strike at Columbus last weekend that provided United with an early lead. It appears he'll miss one or two games.
Without Eskandarian, the coaching staff seems to be leaning toward starting newly acquired Christian Gomez of Argentina with the Bolivian-born Moreno and leaving teenage forward Freddy Adu in central midfield, where he has started the last three weeks.
Nowak declined to discuss his lineup -- a policy he has maintained all season -- but did say that Gomez "can play up front and he can play in the midfield. We have a good rotation right now."
Gomez made his debut last Saturday, playing the final 20 minutes in central midfield. With Gomez's entrance, Adu moved to the right side, where he received superb passes from Moreno and then Gomez to slip into scoring position. Columbus goalkeeper Jon Busch came forward to make a nice save on the first bid and a defender knocked away the second one deep in the box.
Asked whether he has formed a quick bond with Gomez, Moreno said: "When a team works together, everything goes the right way. It's not just me and Christian, it's the whole team. When we go forward, we have the responsibility to make something happen."
Gomez, however, is still working himself into shape following the Argentine league's offseason and is adjusting to the pace and physical nature of MLS.
Nowak has several other midfield options, but he'll likely stick with rookie Josh Gros and veteran Earnie Stewart on the wings and use Ben Olsen and Dema Kovalenko to support Adu. The team is eager to test newcomer Tim Lawson, who had been playing in Germany, but a quadriceps injury has sidelined him for a second straight week.
Regardless of the lineup, Nowak is just hoping his team can put together a complete effort on the road, where United is an MLS-worst 1-6-4. The only victory came three months ago at New England, 1-0, on an own goal.
The Revolution is just 3-5-2 at Gillette Stadium -- the poorest home mark in the league -- and its average attendance has slipped to third worst in MLS at 11,261. A New England victory today, however, would pull it even with United in the tightly packed Eastern Conference, where all five teams are scrambling for playoff position.
"We're not going to back off our standard," Nowak said. "We want to go there and play our game. We don't want to win just one point [for a tie]; we're going there to get three. It's a pretty important time right now, and mentally and physically we're ready to find a way to win."
United Notes: Technical director Dave Kasper said "it's quite possible" the team will add another player in the next few weeks. He wouldn't comment on speculation that United is interested in goalie Zach Thornton, a former Chicago all-star who is a free agent after playing in Portugal last season. Nowak did emphasize that the team is happy with Troy Perkins and Nick Rimando. The club has also been looking for frontline and defensive help.