Back in MLS Play, United Hopes to Feel Right at Home

Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, July 22, 2008; Page E02

Thanks to soccer's unique scheduling traditions, D.C. United is both MLS's most prosperous and most troubled team.

United has not lost an MLS regular season match in two months and has generated goals at a torrid pace at RFK Stadium against league competition. At the same time, it is going through one of the worst stretches at home in club history and showing signs of regressing to its dodgy, early-season form.

How is that possible?

After extending its unbeaten streak in league play to six with a 4-1 rout of David Beckham's Los Angeles Galaxy on June 29, United took a three-week break from the regular season schedule to concentrate on a pair of tournaments.

Things continued to go well with two victories in the low-key U.S. Open Cup, but in the SuperLiga, a demanding MLS-Mexican event, United lost three consecutive games at home and finished with the worst record among eight participants.

So when the Houston Dynamo visits RFK tonight for a league match, United will attempt to simultaneously continue a hot streak and end a frigid stretch.

"It's time to get back to work," United Coach Tom Soehn said yesterday. "We are back to [the] season, starting the second half of the regular season and making sure we address it in the right way. And obviously it's always important to come out and play well after you feel like you let yourself down."

Soccer teams worldwide typically play in tournaments concurrent to the league schedule, and in this case, United's regular season momentum came to a screeching halt with losses to Mexican clubs Chivas Guadalajara and Atlante in a four-day stretch and then to Houston, 3-1, on Saturday night.

United had lost three straight at RFK only twice previously -- in 2000 to New York, Columbus and New England, and in 2001 to San Jose, German club Bayer Leverkusen and Chicago. The club has never lost four in a row at home since its inception in 1996.

"The situation that we've been in the last few games, losing three games straight, we don't want to think we are in the same track as the beginning of the season" when United started 2-7 in league play, team captain Jaime Moreno said. "We want to go back to where we were a month ago."

It is an opportune time for United to make a move in the Eastern Conference. In part because of the tournaments, fourth-place United (7-7-1, 22 points) has played the fewest regular season games in MLS and, despite its unbeaten streak, is just one point ahead of last-place New York (5-6-6, 21) and Kansas City (5-5-6, 21) and even with Toronto (6-6-4, 22).

Injuries have been a factor in United's decline. Starters Marcelo Gallardo, Gonzalo Peralta and Santino Quaranta have been sidelined for much of the month and will not return for at least two weeks. Reserves Dan Stratford and Domenic Mediate also remain out.

Moreno is expected to start after sitting out Saturday's match and will probably drop back from his forward position and play in central midfield in place of Gallardo. Defender Gonzalo Martínez is likely to return to the lineup after entering in the second half Saturday.

United's primary problem in the SuperLiga was defense. In conceding eight goals, the club made many of the same mistakes that plagued it in April and May.

"We got into some bad habits defensively," central back Devon McTavish said. "We've approached that and talked about it. We need to get to the way things were."

United Notes: Tonight is the makeup game for the June 4 match, which was postponed by severe thunderstorms. Tickets from the original game will be honored. . . .

The Dynamo (4-4-8) has played three straight league ties. . . . Houston midfielder Ricardo Clark, who scored the first goal of Saturday's match, is serving a one-game suspension for accumulating yellow cards in regular season play. . . . United midfielder Joe Vide and Dynamo forward Nate Jaqua are eligible to play after being acquired last week.

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