United Is Thirsty to End Scoring Drought

United, in need of a win Saturday to stay in the MLS playoff hunt, look to get a lift from Santino Quaranta, right, instead they are shutout.
United, in need of a win Saturday to stay in the MLS playoff hunt, look to get a lift from Santino Quaranta, right, instead they are shutout. (By Jonathan Newton -- The Washington Post)
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By Steven Goff
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, October 4, 2008

The forwards are out, but the playmaker is back.

In desperate need of victory to sustain its MLS playoff aspirations, D.C. United will be without the high-scoring tandem of Luciano Emilio and Jaime Moreno tonight against Chivas USA at RFK Stadium. Emilio has not recovered from a hamstring injury suffered last Sunday at Dallas, and Moreno is serving the first of a two-game suspension for receiving a red card.

Their 21 combined goals are a little more than half of the club's season total, and Moreno's nine assists are tied for fourth in the league. With Moreno and Emilio in and out of the lineup, United has scored in just one of the past five matches.

"The goals are obviously going to have to come from guys who haven't scored a lot," defender Marc Burch said yesterday. "We have the guys who can do it. We'll get some goals."

Thabiso Khumalo, impressive as a forward and midfielder since arriving from third-division Pittsburgh last month, seems certain to fill one opening, while Santino Quaranta or Francis Doe is expected to step into the other.

Quaranta's role has meandered between the right flank, central midfield and frontline all season, and his five goals are third on the team.

While the frontline is depleted, the midfield is likely to be strengthened by the return of Marcelo Gallardo, who missed three league games and three international matches (five losses and a tie) with an adductor strain. The highest-paid player in club history has been out most of the past three months and is critical to United's efforts to reach the playoffs for the sixth consecutive year.

"The idea is to play," said Gallardo, who returned from a two-week rehabilitation period in his native Argentina with a personal trainer to assist with his conditioning. "I don't know how many minutes, but however long my body holds up. I haven't played for a while, so I am not 100 percent, but I definitely want to get on the field."

Coach Tom Soehn sees a deeper solution to breaking out of the scoring drought, saying: "It's not so much scoring goals. Our team will come to work and do the little things we haven't been doing. It was a great reminder for me on Wednesday watching our young kids go out and compete [in a 1-0 loss to Mexico's Cruz Azul in a Champions League game], all the little intangibles about fighting for each other and making sure you understand what you are fighting for. That is all going to be here tomorrow, and along with that comes goals."

United needs a victory to remain in the thick of an increasingly tightening playoff race. Three teams in each conference will receive automatic berths, and the two clubs next in the points race, regardless of conference affiliation, will earn the final slots.

United (10-13-3) is fifth in the East and, with almost no shot of finishing in the top three, will need to secure a wild-card berth. None of MLS's 14 teams has been eliminated from playoff contention (though Toronto and Los Angeles face long odds), and eight are within six points of one another.

United's urgency to win tonight is heightened by the prospects of having to play each of the conference leaders on the road (Houston and Columbus) and host a second-place team (New England) during the final three weeks.

"We definitely need to take advantage of being at home," midfielder Clyde Simms said, "and we definitely need the three points."

United Notes: Chivas USA forward Ante Razov, second behind Moreno on MLS's all-time goals list with 114, is sidelined with a calf strain. . . . United is 3-0 all time against Chivas USA at RFK with a 7-1 scoring advantage. . . . Chivas USA (10-10-6) is 4-1-1 in the past six outings, and former D.C. star Alecko Eskandarian has scored the past two games. . . . More than 25,000 tickets have been sold, the largest total of the year except for David Beckham's visit with Los Angeles in June (35,979). United is averaging 19,440 for league games.

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