United Notebook

United's Start Has a Familiar Look

By Steven Goff
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, April 23, 2008

D.C. United's early-season issues are eerily similar to last year's -- an overcrowded schedule, a sluggish attack, an exposed defense and, most glaring, a dreary record.

"It feels like we are repeating history," defender Bryan Namoff said this week. "We had hoped for it to click right away, but now we realize it is not going to happen overnight and that it is going to take a lot more work and dedication to turn it in the right direction."

Last season, United rebounded from an 0-3-1 start to finish with the best record in MLS. The club was widely selected to win the Eastern Conference regular season title for a third consecutive year, but the challenge of integrating four new starters, including playmaker Marcelo Gallardo, and the demands of international competition have left United (1-3) in another disconcerting situation.

In the past two matches, the club was outscored 6-1 by opponents that failed to make the playoffs the previous three years.

"Maybe we are just not having fun," team captain Jaime Moreno said. "We're not enjoying it like we should. It feels like we have too much pressure, trying to go out there and win games so quickly. We have enough experience to manage the game better."

While Gallardo, whose $1.9 million salary is the biggest in club history, is beginning to show his value with influential play and excellent ball distribution, 2007 league MVP Luciano Emilio has struggled to regain his scoring touch and the defense has been inconsistent.

In hopes of rectifying his club's problems, Coach Tom Soehn has welcomed a full week of practice after playing six games in 20 days -- a stretch that took its toll physically and mentally, and left little time to make adjustments between games.

"You end up having recovery days, travel days, so this is the first chance we have had to work on things," said Soehn, whose team will have nine days between the 2-1 loss to Columbus last Thursday and Saturday night's match against Real Salt Lake (1-2-1) at RFK Stadium.

"We have developed a lot of bad habits and sometimes when you have a stretch of games, you get lazy," Soehn said. "You don't do some of the things you worked on all week. We have to get back to basics."

Besides the strain of four nonleague matches, Soehn and the players attribute this year's swoon to a number of small issues: movement away from the ball, anticipating passes, spacing in the back and pressuring opposing defenders, among others.

Although last year's resurgence offers promise for another turnaround, the club realizes it needs to start winning again soon.

"There is more of a demand on each one of us," Soehn said, "and when you have that, things get tighter."

On the Personnel Front

Defender Gonzalo Peralta (knee) and defender-midfielders Devon McTavish (foot) and Domenic Mediate (hamstring) sat out practice yesterday. "They are making progress," Soehn said. Peralta and McTavish also missed Monday's session. . . .

United General Manager Dave Kasper said he is hopeful that Liberian forward Francis Doe, who finalized a senior roster contract with the club yesterday, will receive his work visa in time for the May 4 match at Colorado. . . .

Midfielder Ben Olsen, who has not played since surgery on both ankles last fall, will see another specialist next week in North Carolina. There is no timetable on a possible return. Olsen continues to have discomfort in his left ankle and has stopped workouts.

Friendly on the Horizon

Local organizers are close to finalizing a friendly between the El Salvador and Guatemala national teams May 30 at RFK. Both squads are preparing for the second round of 2010 World Cup qualifying in June.

Last month, more than 22,000 spectators saw the Salvadorans defeat Anguilla, 4-0, in a first-round qualifier in Washington.

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