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D.C. United looks to avoid tying worst start in team history against Chicago Fire

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Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, April 17, 2010

Curt Onalfo's bright preseason outlook for D.C. United came with a caveat that, while his club would play with conviction and style in its quest to return to MLS relevance, there undoubtedly would be many trying moments.

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Through three matches, Onalfo's warnings have been realized to a greater degree than the eternally optimistic new coach could have forecasted.

At 0-3, United is the only club in the 16-team league that has not earned a point. It has scored just two goals, both in the previous match, and yielded an MLS-worst nine.

United's disciplinary record (11 yellow cards and one red) is equal to its total shots on goal (12).

With a loss Saturday night to the Chicago Fire (0-2-1) at RFK Stadium, United would match the worst start in club history (0-4 in the inaugural 1996 season).

"We shouldn't be 0-3, and we are," Onalfo said early this week. "The only way to get through it, you have two decisions: You can cry and whine about it and complain and make excuses and overanalyze it like everybody else is going to do, or we can actually get back down to business, continue to work and fight through it.

"We're going to get through it. I have all the confidence in the world."

To fulfill those expectations, however, United will have to correct attacking and defensive deficiencies that have plagued the club in every match.

Last weekend, United rebounded from an abysmal first half to draw even with the expansion Philadelphia Union, 2-2. But with 10 minutes left and the momentum in United's favor, defender Dejan Jakovic misplayed a bouncing ball. In an attempt to compensate, he pulled down a Union player and was ejected. Sebastien Le Toux smashed the ensuing free kick past goalkeeper Troy Perkins to complete a hat trick.

"It seems like immature mistakes," United captain Jaime Moreno said. "We know we can't keep making them because they are going to cost us games. We have to concentrate for 90 minutes."

Injuries and Jakovic's one-game suspension will compound United's problems against the Fire. Juan Manuel Peña, Jakovic's partner in central defense, will miss this match -- and perhaps one or two others -- because of a hamstring injury. Veterans Bryan Namoff, Marc Burch and Clyde Simms remain sidelined with long-term ailments, and midfielder Brandon Barklage, who started the past two games, is likely to be in reserve after suffering a head injury last week.

While the absence of Jakovic and Peña will force Onalfo to make lineup changes -- Julius James and Carey Talley are the likely replacements -- he might also choose to make adjustments to enhance the attack.

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