By Steven Goff
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, April 17, 2008
For a coach facing a sixth match in 20 days, who has watched his team play in four time zones and two foreign countries since training camp opened and who just experienced the worst loss of his tenure, even the smallest of benefits is warmly embraced.
The previous two weeks, while most MLS teams had just one game scheduled, D.C. United's Tom Soehn readied his club for a Tuesday or Wednesday international match following a weekend league encounter.
This week, United received a bonus 24 hours to prepare for tonight's game against the Columbus Crew at RFK Stadium.
"We've actually had an extra day of rest that we are not accustomed to," Soehn said, "and that has gone a long way to get some guys charged up mentally and physically."
In the aftermath of the Champions' Cup disappointment and the 4-0 defeat to Real Salt Lake on Saturday, United (1-2) welcomed every extra minute available to it. The club has used the time not only to recover from the physical demands of a busy spring schedule, but attempt to regain focus and atone for the worst regular season loss in almost four years.
"We hold ourselves to a high standard and it was an embarrassment," forward-midfielder Santino Quaranta said. "We were embarrassed, everyone was, and we've got to do better."
Soehn's intent Saturday was to rest some starters, including playmaker Marcelo Gallardo, and hope a makeshift lineup could earn a tie or victory on the road. The approach failed miserably and Soehn did not absolve himself from responsibility, saying yesterday that "tactically, I don't think as a staff we did a good enough job with our defensive approach."
Gallardo and well-rested goalkeeper Zach Wells are certain to return to the starting lineup tonight, while Quaranta and Marc Burch, who played one half apiece Saturday, are ready to go. Defender Gonzalo Martínez was also given the day off in Salt Lake City after accumulating considerable minutes, but after experiencing tightness in a hamstring Tuesday, he did not practice yesterday and seems unlikely to start tonight.
His absence might trigger a shift that would send Devon McTavish, a defender who has started all spring in the midfield, to the back line, allow Quaranta to play on the right flank and move Burch back to defense after playing in midfield in his past two appearances. In customary fashion, Soehn declined to discuss his personnel plans.
He did say, though, he has been encouraged by the players' response in practice this week.
"I feel like the guys are refocused and reenergized," he said. "Any time you have a bad performance -- and it was one of our worst in a long time -- you are always excited to be back out on the field and prove what you are about and show your character."
United will also have to show tighter defense after conceding too much space and experiencing several one-on-one breakdowns against Real. From an attacking standpoint, Gallardo's return will be welcome to a club that has scored 11 goals in three appearances at RFK. The Argentine midfielder might take additional motivation from his matchup with Columbus's Guillermo Barros Schelotto. For years they were opponents in the Buenos Aires duels between River Plate (Gallardo) and Boca Juniors (Schelotto), perhaps world soccer's most impassioned rivalry.
"To know him as a person has allowed me to see him in a different way," Gallardo said through an interpreter. "We were together on the national team and we got to know each other, developing a mutual respect."
United Notes: Tonight's match will bring together the three Carroll brothers from Springfield. Brian, 26, who was with United for five years, is expected to start for the Crew. United's Jeff Carroll, 24, is sidelined with a foot injury, but teammate Pat, a 22-year-old rookie defender, is likely to be in uniform. . . . United will play its first reserve division match at 10 a.m. tomorrow against the Crew at the training grounds outside RFK at Oklahoma Avenue and C Street NE. Admission is free.