After Makeover, United Is Hardly Sitting Pretty

By Steven Goff
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, May 21, 2008

D.C. United did not have to renovate its roster over the winter.

It could have re-signed 2006 MVP Christian G┬┐mez, retained goalkeeper Troy Perkins, given defender Bobby Boswell a chance to atone for a lost year, protected midfielder Brian Carroll from the expansion draft and, quite likely, proceeded to finish with the most points in MLS again.

But the league's most decorated club is obsessively ambitious, and when failure to win a major domestic or international trophy last year stretched its drought to three years, the front office decided to take action.

On paper, the arrival of five South Americans, among others, to replace several departing veterans seemed sure to keep United on a winning course and provide much-needed edginess in tournaments and the MLS playoffs.

But as the club prepares for two critical matches this week against Toronto FC, starting tonight at rowdy BMO Field, the early verdict on the roster makeover is decidedly unfavorable. United (2-6 and last in the Eastern Conference) has lost three in a row and five of six to equal the worst start in the club's 13 seasons.

With so many new players, club officials and the coaching staff braced themselves for a rocky transition. But no one expected it to last this deep into the season and cause such a disruption.

"Anywhere in the world it's normal, when you make changes the way we made changes, for things not to go the way you want them to begin with," second-year forward Luciano Emilio, MLS's scoring champion and MVP last year who has just one goal this season, said through an interpreter.

"It's a different team than last year. Last year we had better chemistry because all the players knew each other well. This year, with all the changes, we don't have that same chemistry up to now."

Losing has taken a toll. After a 3-1 setback at Chivas USA on Saturday, a game in which United's late lead dissolved during a disastrous nine-minute stretch, Coach Tom Soehn kept the locker room closed for 30 minutes and admonished his team. The players' body language and postgame comments were indicative of a team on the brink of a complete collapse.

United started poorly last year as well, but this season has a different, and ominous, feel to it. Soehn and the players acknowledge that, if they have any hope of resurrecting the season, they must starting winning immediately.

"We don't have any other choice," team captain Jaime Moreno said. "We do know that we are in a situation no one wants to be in."

Moreno, a 12-year veteran who was re-signed in part to facilitate the influx of the Latin American players, called the chemistry issue "a cheap excuse. It's very simple: We're not playing well, we're not getting results -- that's all that counts right now."

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