By Steven Goff
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, June 26, 2008
D.C. United is scoring goals at a furious pace. Luciano Emilio has rediscovered his finishing touch, and the backline has found its form after a dodgy start. The international newcomers have bonded with the veteran corps, and the young players in reserve are beginning to contribute.
But while the players and coaches are encouraged by the club's ascension from MLS's Eastern Conference cellar to within eight points of the first-place New England Revolution, their enthusiasm is tempered by a continuing susceptibility to conceding goals.
Their concern, no doubt, will deepen Sunday afternoon, when David Beckham and the Los Angeles Galaxy, MLS's highest-scoring club by a wide margin, visit RFK Stadium. United has allowed a league-worst 25 goals and is the only team without a regular season shutout.
"It's ridiculous," defender Devon McTavish said. "It's almost July, and we have yet to get one."
United's five-game unbeaten streak has coincided with a steadily improving defense. Although the club has permitted just one goal in each of the past three matches, soft goals continue to torment the team.
After rebounding from an unsound start with a series of acceptable performances, goalkeeper Zach Wells fumbled a routine cross Sunday against the unimposing San Jose Earthquakes, which led to the tying goal early in the second half of United's 3-1 victory.
"It's a disappointing play," Coach Tom Soehn said. "What else can you say? He was the first to say he made a mistake. Mistakes happen. We can't dwell on them; we have to move forward right now."
While goalkeeping remains an issue -- backup José Carvallo has failed to impress the coaching staff -- Soehn has been encouraged by the play of McTavish and Gonzalo Peralta in central defense and Gonzalo Martínez and Bryan Namoff on the flanks. Marc Burch and Domenic Mediate also have performed well when injuries or suspensions have required a lineup change.
United's key against the Galaxy (31 goals in 13 games) not only will be disrupting Beckham (six assists), Landon Donovan (league-high 11 goals) and Edson Buddle (nine) when they have the ball, but keeping it from them.
"Obviously they can't score if we have the ball, and if we can wear them down a little bit defensively, they will get more tired in the attack and be in worse position to start their attack," defensive midfielder Clyde Simms said. "We also need to get them out of their game and close them down sooner."
With Los Angeles (6-4-3) having scored 16 goals in the final 15 minutes of halves, United must guard against complacency.
"They are phenomenal offensively. They come at you in a whole bunch of different ways," McTavish said. "Buddle is big and physical and has got a great finishing touch. Donovan makes those runs into space and then Beckham can place the ball wherever he wants on the field. They are going to hit you with a lot of different weapons. Thankfully, our offense is pretty potent as well, so it might be an offensive show."
United (6-7-1) is second in scoring with 24 goals, 14 coming in the last five games. Emilio, the 2007 scoring champion with 20, has risen to third in this year's race behind Donovan and Buddle with seven goals during the unbeaten streak, bringing his total to eight.Mediate Likely Sidelined
Mediate, whose eight league appearances have included four starts, is doubtful for Sunday's match because of a mild concussion. In the past two games, he entered early in the second half as an outside midfielder. . . .
In the reserve division yesterday, Rod Dyachenko scored in the 73rd minute to lift United to a 1-0 victory over Columbus in Obetz, Ohio. Carvallo and James Thorpe shared goalkeeping responsibilities. . . . Ticket sales for Sunday's game have surpassed 32,000. . . .
With a victory over the second-division Rochester Rhinos in the U.S. Open Cup next Tuesday, United will face Chicago or third-division Cleveland in the quarterfinals July 8 at the Maryland SoccerPlex, the U.S. Soccer Federation said yesterday.