United Aims to Change Direction on Road

By Steven Goff
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, May 4, 2008

Last Sept. 1, on a broiling night in north Texas, D.C. United scored four goals by early in the second half to secure its third consecutive road victory.

Though eight months have passed, United should remember that 4-0 result against FC Dallas fondly: It was the last time the club won a game away from RFK Stadium.

Since then, United has gone winless on nine MLS and tournament road trips, mustering just four ties. All five losses were by shutout, including the past three games, and the scoring margin in the nine games was 15-5. In 810 minutes, United led for just 97.

"It's something everyone in the entire world of soccer has to deal with," defender-midfielder Marc Burch said of away matches. "At home, you are expecting to get those three points, but when you go on the road, there's a different mentality and you're just trying to squeeze a point -- or maybe three -- out of it. We need to start to get over it and expect to get more wins on the road."

United (2-3) will give it another try this afternoon against the Colorado Rapids (2-3) in suburban Denver.

Although United did not win again on the road last season after routing Dallas, the results were not terrible. Ties at Chivas USA and Chicago were followed by a 1-0 loss to Chivas Guadalajara (Mexico) in the Copa Sudamericana tournament, a tie at Kansas City and a 1-0 setback to Chicago in the MLS playoff opener.

But this year's excursions have been distressing. After a 1-1 tie at Harbour View (Jamaica) in the first leg of the Champions' Cup quarterfinals, United has been outscored 8-0 in losses at Kansas City, Pachuca (Mexico) and Real Salt Lake.

While circumstances and settings have contributed to the club's problems -- a congested spring schedule, the Wizards' temporary home at a baseball park, Pachuca's altitude and Real's rock-hard artificial turf -- United's dodgy performances have been most responsible for the failure.

"Right now, it's just about our form in general," United Coach Tom Soehn said. "Our results early, whether they are home or away, are reflective of our inability to get organized, and bad habits were created over that time we had all those games."

While the road has been unforgiving, United has been productive at home in both league and tournament play this year with four victories and one loss, 16 goals scored and five conceded.

Today, United will visit a city where success has been fleeting. Since a 5-2 victory in May 2000, D.C. has an 0-6-2 road record against the Rapids and scored just five goals.

This visit will have an intriguing subplot as Colorado midfielder Christian Gómez faces United for the first time since being dealt by D.C. to the Rapids during the offseason. Gómez directed United to the 2004 MLS Cup title after joining the team late in the year from his native Argentina. He was a Best XI all-league selection in each of the next three seasons and won the league MVP award in 2006.

But he and the club were unable to reach agreement on a new contract -- the number of guaranteed years was a major sticking point -- so United decided to sign another Argentine, Marcelo Gallardo, and trade Gómez's rights to Colorado for a designated player slot and a first-round draft pick.

Rapids Coach Fernando Clavijo told the Rocky Mountain News: "They got Gallardo, and we have Christian Gómez. I'll take Christian Gómez any time. . . . Did we get the best part of it? Yes."

Defensive midfielder Clyde Simms will inherit responsibility for marking Gómez, though a collective effort will probably be necessary to contain a player who is as dangerous finishing his scoring opportunities as he is creating them for teammates.

"We always have to have an eye on him, even when we have the ball, because whenever the ball turns over, that is when he is most dangerous," Simms said. "We've got to keep his back to the goal and just keep talking so we know where he is at all times."

United Notes: Midfielders Fred (bruised quadriceps), Devon McTavish (sprained foot) and Domenic Mediate (strained hamstring) did not make the trip to Denver. . . . Newly signed forward Francis Doe was included on the 18-man travel roster.

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