D.C. United Hoping to Slow Rapids at Home

Luciano Emilio and United aim to atone for a loss at Colorado in June.
Luciano Emilio and United aim to atone for a loss at Colorado in June. (By Richard A. Lipski -- The Washington Post)
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By Steven Goff
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, July 18, 2009

For about a decade, D.C. United and the Colorado Rapids have followed a familiar script: United stumbles in Denver and the Rapids don't win in Washington.

A month after this season's first act unfolded in predictable style -- a 3-0 D.C. defeat, its worst of the year -- United looks to reciprocate at RFK Stadium tonight and stay in the crowded race atop MLS's Eastern Conference. The Rapids (6-4-6) haven't won here since 1999, the year before United's last victory in Colorado, but have earned four ties in the previous 10 visits.

United (5-3-9) will also attempt to maintain its unbeaten mark at home this year; it is 4-0-4 in league play and 8-0-4 in all competitions, including two U.S. Open Cup games at Maryland SoccerPlex.

"Everybody is ready to step into this next challenge, which is going to be not just Colorado but this next stretch of games," said Coach Tom Soehn, whose squad is one point behind Chicago and Toronto, even with Columbus and four points ahead of Kansas City in a seven-team division that will send three to five clubs to the playoffs in October.

United hasn't played a league match in two weeks, allowing forwards Jaime Moreno and Luciano Emilio to fully heal from hamstring and knee ailments, respectively. Both are expected to play a portion of tonight's game, boosting an attack that has produced just one goal in the past two league matches.

Midfielder-forward Santino Quaranta (U.S. national team) and defender Dejan Jakovic (Canada) remain unavailable because of Gold Cup commitments. The Rapids will be without midfielder Colin Clark (U.S. team) and defender Ugo Ihemelu (yellow card suspension).

The loss at Colorado on June 20 -- D.C.'s third game in eight days -- remains fresh on United's mind, with Rapids forward Omar Cummings exploiting defensive breakdowns for two first-half goals and setting up a third just after halftime. Absent from the Colorado lineup that day was frontline partner Conor Casey, MLS's third-leading scorer with eight goals, who has returned from U.S. obligations.

"We know they are a good team, but we didn't play our best," central defender Greg Janicki said. "We didn't have our legs and we didn't have the right mind-set. We know what to expect from Conor and Omar, and we've got to be a lot better ourselves."

Besides the desire to repay the Rapids, United would prefer to avoid another tie. With 13 regular season matches remaining, the club is one draw from equaling the franchise record set three years ago.

"The ties are still haunting us and Colorado is still haunting us," midfielder Ben Olsen said, "so hopefully we can fix two situations in one game."

United Notes: Midfielder Danny Szetela, acquired through MLS allocation this week, is not eligible to play tonight as the club awaits his paperwork to be finalized. . . .

United will soon decide whether to offer contracts to defenders Jean-Francois Bell (Cameroon) and David Habarugira (Burundi), who have completed workouts. Habarugira, 20, "has impressed me quite a bit," Soehn said. United has two roster openings.

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