D.C. United hopes to keep its road success alive

By Steven Goff
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, October 16, 2010; 12:50 AM

In the fading days of a miserable season, D.C. United is mining for any morsel of encouragement. Aside from rookie midfielder Andy Najar, positive news is scarce. However, ahead of its final away match Saturday afternoon against the Chicago Fire, United has drawn consolation from its road performances the past 2½ months.

Despite enduring the worst year in its history, United (6-19-3) has not rolled over in adverse settings against teams with much more at stake.

Since a 3-0 loss July 31 at Real Salt Lake, United has conceded four goals in five away games and won at Toronto FC and Colorado. The 1-0 victory over the Rapids two weeks ago ended a 10-year winless streak in Denver and handed Colorado just its second defeat of the season at Dick's Sporting Goods Park.

Last month at Home Depot Center, United seized the lead against the Los Angeles Galaxy, MLS's points leader, before yielding two late goals by Landon Donovan.

Overall, D.C. has earned 11 points on the road (3-9-2) and 10 at home (3-10-1). United won two away matches in each of the previous two seasons.

"We've been backwards this year," midfielder Santino Quaranta said of a team that has mounted resistance in away games and fallen flat at home. "You can't pinpoint a reason, but when the guys go into a tough environment, they seem to bear down. It's been good lately."

United's three victories on the road have come against clubs that, without the D.C. defeats, are a combined 21-6-12 at home. At RFK Stadium, United has lost six of its past seven league matches. Before this year, D.C. had never won less than six home games.

"It's been a good mentality going into an away game, where it takes everything," interim coach Ben Olsen said. "We have done a good job of keeping [a shutout] for as long as possible and sneaking a goal. The mentality has been right."

The performances at home have confounded Olsen. "I think about it often, and it's frustrating," he said. "But we've got an away game this weekend, so hopefully we can continue our away form."

United should feel comfortable playing the Fire (8-12-8) at Toyota Park, where D.C. has won three straight over the past two years and is 3-1-2 since the stadium in suburban Bridgeview, Ill., opened in 2006.

After having just 15 players (including a guest defender) available last weekend for a 2-0 loss to San Jose, United features the standard 18-man unit.

Midfielder Branko Boskovic is available after starting for Montenegro's national team Tuesday in a 0-0 draw with England at Wembley Stadium. Defenders Dejan Jakovic (Canada) and Julius James (Trinidad and Tobago) also returned from international duty. Najar is back from a yellow card suspension and forward Adam Cristman has recovered from minor knee surgery.

United is missing captain Jaime Moreno, who received a red card last weekend.

The Fire, which will miss the playoffs after advancing to the Eastern Conference final last year, will honor retiring forward Brian McBride with ceremonies before and after the match, as well as at halftime. His final game will be next weekend at Chivas USA.

Illinois native McBride, 38, is the third-leading scorer in U.S. national team history with 30 goals. He began his career with the Columbus Crew, starred for English club Fulham for more than four years, then returned to MLS in 2008.

"Great person, great teammate, great ambassador for U.S. soccer," said Olsen, who served with McBride on the 2006 World Cup squad. "It was always nice to see him up top when you were on the field because he was so opportunistic and you knew you were going to get a full 90 minutes of him dying for his team and for his teammates."

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