Schedule to Test United's Improving Health
Sunday, August 10, 2008
D.C. United Coach Tom Soehn has spent the past week confronting three intertwined issues: a rare road game, a perilous three-day stretch and a restocked roster.
After a staggering 10 consecutive home matches, a United squad in improving health will play away for the first time in 64 days today against the New York Red Bulls at Giants Stadium.
The trip to the Meadowlands will be a blur. Immediately following the 49th regular season meeting between the MLS Eastern Conference rivals, United will bus back to Washington and prepare for Tuesday night's U.S. Open Cup semifinal against the New England Revolution at RFK Stadium.
By soccer standards, it is an unusually quick turnaround, one that puts intensified physical demands on the players. Although the Open Cup game carries greater consequence -- next month's champion will advance to international play next year -- Soehn does not plan to sacrifice today's match to enhance Tuesday's prospects.
He has concocted a formula that he hopes will yield a pair of victories. "Obviously it's not an ideal situation," he said, "but we think we've set ourselves up to be successful in both."
Per his custom, Soehn would not reveal personnel decisions. However, with only three substitutions permitted in league games and four in the Open Cup, some players undoubtedly will be called upon to play most, if not all, of both matches.
Complicating matters is the continued absence of injured regulars, the imminent return of others and defender Marc Burch's Open Cup suspension. United (8-8-1) received a boost Friday when it learned from the U.S. Soccer Federation, organizer of the Open Cup, that newly acquired Ivan Guerrero and Joe Vide are eligible to play Tuesday.
The club had been under the impression the midfielders could not play because they participated in this year's event with the San Jose Earthquakes, rendering them "cup tied." But because San Jose competed in the preliminaries, not the tournament proper, Guerrero and Vide were cleared to play for United.
With them available Tuesday, Soehn might not be as quick to remove starters today. However, it also means he will have to monitor the status of Guerrero and Vide against New York. Guerrero is expected to start both matches, Vide probably one. A player almost certain not to play 90 minutes of both games is team captain Jaime Moreno. "I don't think so, but you never know," the 34-year-old forward said, laughing. "It gets harder when you get older."
Defender Devon McTavish, 10 years younger than Moreno, added, "It takes a toll on your body, for sure, and maybe sets you back a few more days than usual in recovery."
Forward Francis Doe (foot infection) and midfielder Domenic Mediate (concussion) remain sidelined, but midfielder-forward Santino Quaranta said he has fully recovered from a hamstring injury that ruled him out for almost all of the past month. Defender Gonzalo Peralta and midfielder Marcelo Gallardo, who both had sports hernia surgery, are close to returning as well. Peralta was further along in rehabilitation than Gallardo, who has not played since June 29, and made the trip to the Meadowlands. Gallardo did not.
"They are making progress, but the one thing you can't emulate is what it is like to play in a game," Soehn said of the recovering corps. "When we do raise it to that intensity, they are behind a little bit with the soccer part and the physical part. We are going to have to continue to work them hard to get them back to where they need to be. They are still rusty."
While Soehn welcomes a deeper roster, especially for two games in a 50 1/2 -hour stretch, competition for playing time has intensified.
"It's going to be interesting how you get everyone back on the field now," said Quaranta, who, in the wake of Guerrero's addition on the left side of midfield and Fred's move to the right, will have trouble regaining his starting job. Soehn "has a lot of different options."
United Notes: The Red Bulls (5-6-7 in the regular season) are winless in their past seven games in all competitions, including a 6-2 exhibition loss to FC Barcelona on Wednesday. . . . United is 14-2-4 in the last 20 meetings (all competitions) with New York.