D.C.'s Eskandarian Says He'll Play Hurt if Needed

By Steven Goff
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, October 4, 2006

Alecko Eskandarian continues to have knee problems, but with the MLS playoffs approaching and D.C. United in need of another scoring threat, the fourth-year striker said yesterday that he plans to make himself available regardless of the pain.

"I've already told the coaches that if I'm still hurt when the playoffs start, I'll play hurt," he said. "After a game, I can't walk. I know I'll pay the price, but I'll play if need be."

Both he and club officials are hopeful it will not reach that point and that Eskandarian will be healthy enough to resume regular workouts this week and be available for Saturday's match against New England at RFK Stadium.

United (15-5-10) will play its regular season finale Oct. 15 against Chicago and then open the playoffs six days later at New York or Kansas City.

"We're hoping he'll make enough progress and get some minutes this weekend," United technical director Dave Kasper said. "We'll see how it goes. At the end of the day, we think he will be back at some point and be able to contribute."

This isn't the first time a long-term injury has interrupted Eskandarian's career. After missing most of last season with a concussion, he returned to score seven goals the first 20 games.

But his only goal the past 2 1/2 months came against Real Madrid on Aug. 9, and he has been sidelined the past four league matches with a condition that affects the area where the hamstring connects to the back of his left knee.

"No one knows why it's taking so long," Eskandarian said. "It's been very, very frustrating. There are still signs of pain. The next step is trying to play through the pain."

Eskandarian's importance to the club is immense. Jaime Moreno and Freddy Adu -- the starting forwards of late -- are finesse players, Jamil Walker depends on his speed and newly acquired Robert Ssejjemba is still learning the system. That leaves Eskandarian as United's only true striker.

Without him, United has lacked a menacing presence on the front line and, except for a four-goal outburst against New York on Sept. 23, has stumbled on the attack. Eskandarian is also known for his tireless pressure on opposing defenders with the ball deep in their own end.

"I'm falling apart, I'm getting old," the 24-year-old joked. "I just want to get back out there. I'm tired of watching [road games] on TV."

Gros Will Sit Out Again

Midfielder Josh Gros's return did not last long. After sitting out against New York with a red-card suspension, Gros exceeded the cumulative yellow-card limit in the first half Saturday in Houston and will miss the New England match.

He joins defender Facundo Erpen, who will complete a two-match suspension. . . .

As expected, Ssejjemba was called up by Uganda's national team for this weekend's African Cup of Nations qualifier against Niger. He is scheduled to return by next Wednesday. Ssejjemba has played 25 minutes since being acquired from the minor league Richmond Kickers last month. . . .

CONCACAF, soccer's governing body for North and Central America and the Caribbean, has informed United that the first leg of the Champions Cup quarterfinals has been tentatively set for Feb. 20-22 and the second leg a week later, which almost guarantees a cold-weather setting for the D.C. home game.

The semifinals will be March 13-15 and April 3-5, and the finals in mid- to late April. United earned a berth in the international tournament last weekend by clinching the most points during MLS's regular season.

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