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United Ponders Season Gone Awry

Goalie Louis Crayton and his D.C. United teammates fell hard this season, missing the playoffs for the first time in six years despite an assortment of talent.
Goalie Louis Crayton and his D.C. United teammates fell hard this season, missing the playoffs for the first time in six years despite an assortment of talent. (By Mark Avery -- Associated Press)
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Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, October 29, 2008; Page E02

On Monday morning, about 12 hours after being eliminated from MLS playoff contention, D.C. United's players and coaches congregated in Concourse B in the Columbus, Ohio, airport for their hour-long flight home.

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But like almost everything else this distressing year, the final road trip during a 47-game, eight-month schedule was flawed. Delays and cancellations kept them in the terminal for about six hours, and when a flight was available, they had to connect through New York.

"We got back to D.C. in the time it would take to fly to Argentina," Coach Tom Soehn huffed yesterday.

It was a fitting end to the league agenda for a club that, after undergoing major renovations, never got off the ground. After boasting MLS's best record the previous two seasons, United (11-15-4) missed the playoffs for the first time in six years, faltered in three of four nonleague competitions, and will now enter another uncertain winter.

"It's a bad year," team captain Jaime Moreno said. "We should have done better. There is no way, with the kind of players we have, we should be in this position right now."

Though United does have one game remaining, tonight against Marathon of Honduras in the CONCACAF Champions League at RFK Stadium, the club already has begun reflecting on what went so terribly wrong and whether another roster overhaul, as well as a coaching change, is necessary.

"We want to decompress the next couple weeks, talk about it and make all those decisions," General Manager Dave Kasper said.

It does not appear, however, that United will alter the roster as drastically as last offseason, when six prominent newcomers were acquired. None of them was in the starting lineup Sunday against Columbus, symbolic of the team's turbulent year.

Goalkeeper José Carvallo and forward Franco Niell were waived in the summer, defenders Gonzalo Martínez and Gonzalo Peralta were on the bench, midfielder Marcelo Gallardo continued his recovery from the latest in a series of injuries and goalie Zach Wells, the starter the first four months after being acquired in a trade for defender Bobby Boswell, was backing up newcomer Louis Crayton.

"There were some disappointments," Kasper said. "They were all established players, but that doesn't always guarantee they are going to adapt and be successful."

Gallardo, an Argentine playmaker whose $1.9 million contract is the largest in club history, played only half the season and to mixed reviews. But with a guaranteed contract in 2009, he is likely to return. The only realistic scenario for his departure is if a Latin American club expresses interest, and both he and United decide it's best to part ways.

Martínez and Peralta earned nearly $450,000 combined, and while Peralta showed promise before suffering two long-term injuries, Martínez regressed.

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