Seven Weeks at Home Lie On Horizon for United
Sunday, June 22, 2008
If everything falls into place, D.C. United's only adventure beyond the Beltway the next seven weeks will be up I-270 to a regional park.
With no MLS road games until Aug. 10, a trip that will require only a bus ride to the Meadowlands in New Jersey, United might end up enjoying 12 consecutive home matches in various competitions.
The club began the stretch last weekend at RFK Stadium and will host its next four league matches, including this afternoon's meeting with the San Jose Earthquakes.
No travel is necessary for three SuperLiga first-round games at RFK and, by advancing out of group play in the MLS-Mexican tournament, United could host the semifinal and final. If the semifinal opponent is a Mexican team, D.C. is ensured of playing in Washington. If the foe is from MLS, United would have to bid for it.
In addition, United will welcome a lower-level team to Maryland SoccerPlex in Montgomery County on July 1 for a U.S. Open Cup round-of-16 match (RFK is not available). With a victory, D.C. could be selected to host a quarterfinal a week later at the complex, which is located within the South Germantown Recreational Park in Boyds.
"Playing at RFK, we have that realization that we are going to win the game," defender Bryan Namoff said after Friday's training session. "This is a hard place to play against us and we want to keep it that way. We want to keep it sacred -- make sure that when other teams come in, they know they are in for a tough night or tough day."
Though United has been far from perfect at RFK -- a 4-2 league record with nine goals conceded -- the club has been decidedly more successful at home than on the road. Until a 2-1 victory at Chicago early this month, United had gone nine months without an away victory.
Conversely, United (5-7-1) has scored three goals or more at home in all competitions five times, including last Saturday against New York.
"We are comfortable here, and it's another thing at this point in the season that we really need," goalkeeper Zach Wells said. "We need our home support and we need to go on a good run here."
The potentially uninterrupted home stretch comes at a time when United is beginning to round into form and fulfill preseason expectations after a miserable spring. The unbeaten streak has reached four games (3-0-1) and the collection of new players acquired over the winter is beginning to mix well with the veteran corps.
The return of Namoff and playmaker Marcelo Gallardo from red-card suspensions will provide additional reinforcement today. However, midfielder Santino Quaranta, one of four D.C. players to appear in every league match, is out as a result of reaching MLS's yellow card limit (five).
The one area that remains a concern is the defense, which, despite making strides in recent weeks, has not recorded a shutout in league play. "We want to make sure that becomes a habit as well as winning," Coach Tom Soehn said.
Today provides an ideal opportunity. The Earthquakes, resurrected this year after the club moved to Houston and became the Dynamo before the 2006 season, have gone scoreless seven times in league matches and have the same goal total (nine) as MLS individual leader Landon Donovan of Los Angeles.
No San Jose player has scored more than two goals, and defenders and midfielders have been responsible for four strikes. Earthquakes Coach Frank Yallop, a onetime United assistant, is planning to add at least one international impact player this summer.
With United's goalkeeping competition having fizzled, Wells is almost ensured of making his 13th league start. After a poor stretch, Wells has made better decisions and become more assertive.
"I haven't started as well as I would have liked to," he said, "but now I think we are starting to see some improvement and I feel like I am working toward something."
United Notes: Earthquakes defender Jason Hernandez, who has started every league game, is sidelined with a red card suspension . . . Monaco goalkeeper Manuel Vallaurio, on a week-long tryout with United, will not be offered a contract, Soehn said. . . .
Immediately following the MLS match, the Washington Freedom, which is among seven teams in a new national women's league next year, will play an exhibition against the Richmond Kickers Destiny. United ticket holders can stay for the women's game.