United Notebook

Team Looks to Stay Hot in Finale

By Steven Goff
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, October 17, 2007

D.C. United clinched first place in the MLS's Eastern Conference on Saturday and, after Chivas USA's loss the following afternoon, the club secured its second consecutive Supporters' Shield, awarded to the team with the most points in the league.

So on the surface, United appears to have nothing to play for in Saturday night's regular season finale against the Columbus Crew at RFK Stadium.

Well, not exactly.

"The playoffs are about who is hot," said defender Bobby Boswell, whose club is unbeaten in its last 13 league matches dating from late July. "The run we have had, it doesn't mean anything if we go out and lose. If we stay unbeaten, I think it sends a message to a lot of teams and players in the league that, 'Hey, I don't know if they are beatable.' We want to win and keep it going."

Following a 1-1 tie at Kansas City and a 0-0 draw with Chicago, United would like to build momentum against the Crew, which was eliminated from playoff contention last week. "The emphasis is to put together a better performance than we have the last week or two," midfielder Ben Olsen said.

For Coach Tom Soehn, there is a temptation to rest regulars and avoid injuries. But he will need to reincorporate team captain Jaime Moreno into the lineup after he missed an MLS match while on Bolivian national team duty, provide time for Boswell (who missed the Chicago game with a yellow card suspension) and allow Fred to find his form after returning from a groin injury last weekend.

"I don't think you ever want to take your foot off the gas," Soehn said. "You just want to make sure you are on a good roll coming into the playoffs."

United's playoff opponent has yet to be determined. The likely opponent is Chicago, the fourth-place club in the Eastern Conference, but Kansas City could overtake the Fire. In addition, if the Western Conference sends five teams to the playoffs under MLS's complex qualification process, United might end up facing Los Angeles or Colorado.

Regardless, United does not expect to know its opponent until Sunday afternoon, at which point the club might have to prepare for its playoff opener just four days later.

"To get ready for the playoffs, we have to beat the teams we should beat," Boswell said. "This Columbus game is important for us."

Gros Is Unlikely to Play

Although club officials are awaiting test results on Josh Gros's head injury, it appears unlikely the fourth-year midfielder will play again this season. Gros has been sidelined three times this year with symptoms consistent with a concussion or migraine headache. He visited a specialist in Massachusetts last week.

"It is such a gray area with head injuries, there is a real possibility that it's concussion-related," General Manager Dave Kasper said. "If it is, we will shut him down. It's been happening without a lot of contact, and that's a real concern."

Even if the news is encouraging, Kasper said it is doubtful Gros would be in uniform this weekend.

Etcheverry Tribute Set

The rosters have been set for Saturday's Marco Etcheverry tribute match before the United-Crew game. Etcheverry, a former MLS most valuable player who guided United to three championships, will be joined by many of his 1997 teammates, including John Harkes, Jeff Agoos and Raul Diaz Arce.

They will face Hollywood United, whose eclectic roster includes former MLS stars Eric Wynalda and Tab Ramos, 1998 French World Cup defender Frank LeBouef, former Scotland defender Richard Gough, "Without a Trace" actor Anthony LaPaglia, Def Leppard guitarist Vivian Campbell and Hootie & the Blowfish drummer Jim "Soni" Sonefeld.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company