On Wrong End of RFK Streak, D.C. Out to Right Ship at Home
Wednesday, July 30, 2008
In early June, after returning from a game at Chicago, D.C. United looked at the schedule and saw nothing but home matches for two months. It was a welcome prospect for a team that has traditionally thrived at RFK Stadium, its tattered but charming residence, and needed a friendly setting to allow a slowly maturing season to take shape.
But after five consecutive home victories, including a pair at Maryland SoccerPlex in Montgomery County, United has dropped four straight at RFK, a franchise first.
D.C. will conclude the 10-game homestand, by far the longest in its 13 MLS seasons, Saturday night against the Kansas City Wizards.
"You treat your home as a sacred environment, an atmosphere where teams come in and [find it is] a tough place to play," defender Bryan Namoff said yesterday. "Our mentality was that, when teams came in here, they knew they were in for a long haul. We have kind of let that slip."
United is 6-3 at home in the regular season, won both Champions Cup matches at RFK in the spring and claimed two U.S. Open Cup games at the SoccerPlex this month. But over a recent eight-day stretch, the club dropped three SuperLiga matches at RFK and then fell to visiting Houston in league play a few days later.
After averaging nearly three goals per game in the first eight regular season home matches, United (7-8-1) scored just four times total in the SuperLiga and was blanked by the Dynamo, 2-0, last Wednesday.
In the previous two years, United was 19-5-7 in the regular season at RFK but eliminated there in the playoffs each fall.
United's issues run deeper than its RFK follies. Injuries have left the team undermanned and many of the players asked to fill vacancies have not performed up to expectation.
"It seems like we have been in this situation before," team captain Jaime Moreno said, referring to a 2-7 start to the regular season. "It's disappointing because we keep making mistakes that we have been through already. We've talked about it and it keeps happening."
Coach Tom Soehn has noticed an absence of intensity, which contributed to deficits in the 12th, 15th, 20th and 24th minutes of the past four matches.
"I have heard different things -- they are tired, they are mentally drained," he said. "Whatever, it's still putting on the uniform and getting through the tough stretches by competing. On that side, that was disappointing."
United General Manager Dave Kasper is hopeful that defender Gonzalo Peralta, who had sports hernia surgery almost two weeks ago, will see some action Saturday.
The club has targeted Aug. 10 at New York as a possible return for midfielder Marcelo Gallardo, whose hernia surgery was more complex than Peralta's. Midfielder Santino Quaranta (hamstring) is not likely to play until Aug. 10 at the earliest.
As for midfielder Ben Olsen, who has had a series of ankle problems and made just one brief appearance last month, "We will keep our fingers crossed on that one," Soehn said. "He has been through a lot of trauma. If we can get him back for the last stretch, that would be a huge bonus for us."
Soehn and Kasper have hinted at roster changes, but so far no players have begun tryouts. Some candidates could be signed directly and not require workouts, Kasper said. . . .
Moreno said United officials have granted him permission to play in Bolivia's friendly against Guatemala next Wednesday at RFK Stadium. Moreno, 34, a member of the 1994 World Cup team, has not played for his country since last fall. . . .
The U.S. Soccer Federation's adjudication and discipline panel has begun reviewing incidents involving Chicago star Cuauhtémoc Blanco in the U.S. Open Cup game against United on July 8. He is accused of headbutting an operations official after being ejected from the match.