United Enters MLS Stretch Run Think on Defense

Marc Burch, going airborne against Real Madrid, will be out at least two weeks after having scar tissue removed from an ankle, leaving United shorthanded on the backline.
Marc Burch, going airborne against Real Madrid, will be out at least two weeks after having scar tissue removed from an ankle, leaving United shorthanded on the backline. (By Toni L. Sandys -- The Washington Post)
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By Steven Goff
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Last week, D.C. United lost its primary central back to surgery. This week, it was the left back. At this rate, Coach Tom Soehn, a former defender, might have to pull out a spare uniform.

Four days after announcing that Dejan Jakovic would miss two to three weeks because of a hernia, the club said Tuesday that Marc Burch is going to miss at least two weeks after having scar tissue removed from an ankle.

The timing couldn't be much worse. In critical need of points to avoid missing the MLS playoffs for the second straight year, United will call upon a makeshift backline Wednesday night against the Kansas City Wizards in the first of five straight league matches at RFK Stadium.

Defensive midfielder Clyde Simms shifted to central defense Saturday at Dallas and seems likely to fill that role again. Avery John, who has played just 230 minutes in league games since being signed in April, is the top candidate for the left side.

Burch, who has started 21 of 24 league matches and scored on a free kick during the 2-2 tie with Dallas, aggravated an old injury several weeks ago and was hoping to make it through the season without interruption. However, "It got to the point where it got pretty bad and we had to take care of it," Soehn added. "In a perfect world, it's two weeks."

Irregardless of the injury, Burch would have missed Wednesday's match on a yellow card suspension. He will not play Saturday against the Seattle Sounders or next Tuesday at San Juan Jabloteh (Trinidad and Tobago) in the CONCACAF Champions League. United will then have nine days before its next game, its longest layoff in more than a month.

Jakovic, who has played every minute in 20 league appearances, underwent hernia surgery over the weekend in Germany and should return for the Champions League match Sept. 24 against Marathon (Honduras) or the league game with the San Jose Earthquakes three days later.

"I am the last remaining," Bryan Namoff said, joking about the defensive injury bug that he has avoided. "Obviously, it's difficult. It just adds to the craziness, especially at a time where we were waiting for this build-up for the five games at home. We have to have some guys step up for us, especially on the backline; it's a little tainted right now."

United (7-5-12, 33 points) is among seven teams vying for four wild-card playoff berths. The club also remains in the hunt for one of the Eastern Conference's two automatic slots, but with only six matches left -- two fewer than New England (33 points), one fewer than Columbus (39) and the same as Chicago (38) -- D.C. would have to win most, if not all.

United won't play another MLS road game until Oct. 24, the regular season finale at Kansas City.

At RFK, the club is 5-0-5 in league play with only eight goals conceded but winless in four straight home appearances there in all competitions, including losses to Seattle in the U.S. Open Cup and Toluca (Mexico) in the Champions League.

Besides the defensive concerns, United hasn't received enough production from striker Luciano Emilio, who played the final 14 minutes Saturday, or playmaker Christian Gómez, who, despite traveling with the team to Dallas, did not play.

"He just needs to show that urgency and the dynamics that he has," Soehn said of Gómez. "We all know what those qualities are. When he does that, he is a difference-maker. If he is not doing those things, he has a hard time finding the game, and we need him on the ball. For him to play, he has to be active, putting himself in spots, changing his pace and giving some of the defensive responsibility, too."

United Note: Wednesday's match was supposed to be played Aug. 8 but moved to accommodate the Real Madrid friendly the next day at FedEx Field. Tickets for the original date will be honored.

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