Last-Place United Is Anxious to Find Winning Lineup Solutions

Injuries and poor performances have hampered D.C. Coach Tom Soehn's ability to put a winning team on the field.
Injuries and poor performances have hampered D.C. Coach Tom Soehn's ability to put a winning team on the field. (By Preston Keres -- The Washington Post)
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By Steven Goff
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, May 17, 2008

CARSON, Calif., -- D.C. United Coach Tom Soehn is trying to solve two puzzles at once.

The first is the wayward direction of his team, which has failed to fulfill heightened expectations after a winter of change and, regardless of the outcome of Saturday night's match against Chivas USA at Home Depot Center, will pass the quarter mark of the MLS season in last place in the Eastern Conference.

The second riddle is his lineup, which has remained in perpetual unrest because of injuries, poor individual form and personal issues. A revamped roster that club officials believed at the start of the season was perhaps the deepest and most talented in the league has shown weakness in almost every outing this spring and has forced weekly evaluation of the starting lineup.

This week's training sessions provided encouragement, if not answers.

"People have dedicated themselves to making sure they're doing all the little things right," Soehn said. "If that translates into the game, then we are definitely heading in the right direction."

Though 23 league games and three tournaments lie ahead over the next five months, the players acknowledge an intensified urgency to win now.

"We've got to turn it around and get back to where we were last year," defender Marc Burch said of United (2-5), which endured a sputtering start in 2007 to finish with the most points in MLS for the second consecutive season. "We were a unit last year, no matter who was out there or who we were playing."

Chivas USA, crippled by injuries to its back line and next to last in the Western Conference with a 1-4-2 record, might be the perfect opponent for an equally stressed team.

"We are as bad as they are," United midfielder-forward Santino Quaranta said. "They're struggling, and so are we. It's going to be a good test of character again. We keep saying this, but really it's getting to the point where it has been long enough. We've got to figure it out."

Part of the problem-solving may come in the form of drastic lineup changes.

Following consecutive shutout losses, Soehn is seriously considering a major move on the front line -- benching Brazilian forward Luciano Emilio, the 2007 MLS most valuable player and goals champion who has not scored since the club's MLS home opener against Toronto six weeks ago. Emilio, who has started all seven league matches, could find himself on the bench watching Franco Niell or Francis Doe in his place alongside team captain Jaime Moreno.

"It's a combination of things," Soehn said of Emilio (one goal, one assist). "He is not very sharp in some areas, and he's got to work really hard to make sure he gets back to his form of last year."

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