Signs for United: Hopeful, if Brief

Storms halted Wednesday night's game at RFK Stadium after just over fifteen minutes of play. (Toni L. Sandys - The Washington Post)
Storms halted Wednesday night's game at RFK Stadium after just over fifteen minutes of play. (Toni L. Sandys - The Washington Post)
By Steven Goff
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, June 7, 2008

The game lasted just 15 minutes and came under extraordinary circumstances, but between bands of thunderstorms that ultimately postponed Wednesday's match, D.C. United performed reasonably well against Houston at RFK Stadium.

For a club increasingly desperate for victories, encouraging signs even in a narrow and scoreless time frame offer hope of reviving a wayward season.

"It just showed me where our mentality was," United Coach Tom Soehn said yesterday before the team departed for Chicago to face the Fire tonight. "We were still building off what we had done in the last couple games. I don't expect that to change."

After the midweek postponement, its first in 10 years, United (3-7-1) will try again to extend its unbeaten streak to three and pull itself out of last place in the Eastern Conference. Though the club was on the right path against the Dynamo, United remains largely unsettled. In its previous two full games, D.C. had to rally in the second half to overtake Toronto, 3-2, and then relinquished a two-goal lead for a 2-2 tie at first-place New England.

"It seems like we just turn the lights on and off, and that's why we need to maintain and play for 90 minutes," team captain Jaime Moreno said. "We have to be more responsible in our actions and take care of ourselves."

United will need to take care of itself and the ball tonight against second-place Chicago, which is 4-1 in its last five matches and 6-2-1 overall. The Fire won at RFK a month ago, 2-0, and has earned two victories and two ties against United since moving to Toyota Park in Bridgeview, Ill., two years ago.

Despite having not won on the road since Sept. 1, a stretch of 13 matches in league and international competition, United players think things are beginning to turn. At New England, they played in rhythm for much of the evening and created about 10 quality scoring opportunities. Defender Bryan Namoff called it "our best showing on the road in a long time."

With the improved play, confidence has returned.

"We are going into Chicago knowing we can get three points, whereas before you figured, 'Another away game,' " midfielder Clyde Simms said of the meeting with the Fire, which is 4-0-1 on the road but just 2-2 at home.

After tonight, United will not have to play another league road game for two months, the result of MLS scheduling issues and an international tournament. After welcoming New York, San Jose and Los Angeles to RFK later this month, United will play three SuperLiga group matches in Washington between July 12 and 19, then possibly host a semifinal and the final. Its next regular season away game is Aug. 10 at New York.

With a long homestand approaching, Soehn sees his club evolving at the right time.

"We are a much different team than we were not too long ago, just in our mentality in how we approach games," he said. "We just have to make sure there is no slide."

The key to defeating the Fire is restraining Cuauhtémoc Blanco, the Mexican star who antagonizes opponents with both his feet and his mouth. While United has learned to disregard Blanco's commentary and attempts to influence the officiating, it cannot ignore his potential impact on the game.

Blanco is listed as a midfielder, but because of minimal defensive responsibilities, he has the freedom to linger upfield like a forward, often out of sight of opponents who are focused on their attack. Blanco scored against United from 30-plus yards in the first meeting.

"I don't necessarily call it cheating, but he drifts in spots where you get caught because you are tuned into the ball," Soehn said. "We have to be aware of where he is and make it difficult for them to play him the ball."

United Notes: Moreno said he has not been recalled by Bolivia's national team for a pair of World Cup qualifiers, meaning he will be available for United's game against the Red Bulls next Saturday. . . . The makeup date for the United-Dynamo match will not be determined until next week, a D.C. team spokesman said.

© 2008 The Washington Post Company