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United Goes From Leis To Scarves

Wednesday, March 2, 2005; Page D02

In the span of two days, D.C. United's preseason conditions went from 81 degrees and sunny to 35 and snowy.

After spending a week in Hawaii as part of its warm-weather spring training schedule, United returned to snowfall and messy practice fields outside RFK Stadium yesterday. No one was expecting Washington to be as nice as Honolulu, but they weren't anticipating such a chilly setting this late in the winter either.

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United Section

"We've gone from sand to snow," United technical director Dave Kasper said. "We're going to grind it out."

The players practiced yesterday atop the melting snow on the artificial turf field. The weather patterns aren't expected to change much anytime soon, which means United's first serious match of the year, the Champions Cup quarterfinal opener next Wednesday at Maryland SoccerPlex in Germantown against Harbour View of Jamaica, will likely be played in cold, sloppy conditions.

Following that game, United will move operations back to warmer environs. It will return to Florida -- where the team spent most of February -- to prepare for the second leg of the Champions Cup series on March 16 in Kingston, Jamaica, then go to Charleston, S.C., for a week to compete in the exhibition Carolina Challenge Cup. United's MLS opener is April 2 at Chivas USA, an expansion team based in Los Angeles. . . .

United decided last year to close RFK's upper deck to reduce its game-day expenses and create a more intimate atmosphere. But because baseball-required renovations have reduced seating in the lower bowl, United has decided to reopen the upper deck for certain matches this season.

Capacity for MLS games last year was 24,603 -- the number of seats in the lower level and mezzanine. However, the removal of entire sections on the north end to accommodate a baseball field for the Washington Nationals has reduced that figure to around 19,500.

United averaged 17,232 in the 2004 regular season and drew 21,101 for the Eastern Conference final against New England.

D.C. President Kevin Payne said the club plans to open the upper deck for the home opener April 9 against Chicago and, depending on ticket demand, likely will do the same for some other home games.

Meantime, single-game tickets went on sale yesterday with higher rates in three of the four categories: Mezzanine went from $36 to $40, VIP from $28 to $30 and Premium from $22 to $24. Spectator-level seats will remain $16. The price increases were the first in three years. . . .

The search for a starting defender to replace departed all-star Ryan Nelsen has been narrowed to two candidates and "we should have some clarity next week," Kasper said, declining to identify them. . . .

Midfielder Ben Olsen accompanied United only halfway back from Hawaii, staying in Los Angeles to join the U.S. national team for the start of training camp prior to World Cup qualifiers against Mexico and Guatemala. However, he will return this weekend and be available for the Harbour View matches.

-- Steven Goff

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