With his star playmaker a few thousand miles away and the left side of his midfield not producing, D.C. United Coach Thomas Rongen has decided to shuffle his lineup again for tonight's match against the Kansas City Wizards at RFK Stadium.
Jason Moore, the first overall pick in the Major League Soccer draft this year, will move from the left flank to central midfield -- a position he played at the University of Virginia but has not tried in the pros. He replaces rookie Antonio Otero, who didn't impress Rongen as the playmaker in last weekend's 2-1 loss to Los Angeles.
The youth experiment has been necessary because team captain Marco Etcheverry, who leads MLS in assists with 11, is on leave with the Bolivian national team for Copa America, the prestigious South American championships that begin Tuesday in Paraguay. Yesterday, Etcheverry was suspended by MLS for three games and fined $2,000 for unsportsmanlike play and abusive behavior against Dallas on June 16. However, the suspension is in effect for three games Etcheverry would have missed anyway: Last Saturday's 2-1 loss to Los Angeles, today's game against Kansas City and July 4 at San Jose.
"We can't find another Marco, and we know that," Rongen said yesterday following practice at United Park in Herndon. "We'll just try to find the best player right now in that position who can be somewhat productive for us in assisting and changing the point of the attack."
Moore, 21, has displayed good ball-control skills in 10 appearances, all starts on the left side, but has only one assist and has not scored. Veteran Brian Kamler, who began the season as the starting left midfielder, is expected to return there tonight while Otero (American University) returns to the bench.
"It's nice to have the luxury of playing two young players 90 minutes in a very important position," Rongen said. "They grow up overnight. We just don't know how they're going to respond."
Rongen hopes to get a definitive answer soon because Etcheverry, along with Bolivian forward Jaime Moreno, probably won't return until early August. Following Copa America, Bolivia will play in the FIFA Confederations Cup in Mexico.
In addition to Moore and Kamler, United's midfield tonight will include second-year player Ben Olsen (two goals, six assists) on the right and veterans Richie Williams and Geoff Aunger in defensive roles.
"He's got to be very mobile and share the ball -- get it, give it and do some things like Marco," Olsen said of Moore, a former teammate at Virginia. "He can do it. He's done it before in college. He knows what he's doing."
Moreno's position is being filled by A.J. Wood, who has two goals and two assists in 10 appearances. Striker Roy Lassiter leads the league with 12 goals, but was scoreless in the previous two matches.
On defense, Carlos Llamosa appears to have fully recovered from a sprained knee and ankle and will make his second straight start. But Eddie Pope, who has missed all but 45 minutes of the past 10 games because of a broken foot, won't be ready until next week's game at San Jose, Rongen said.
United Notes: Etcheverry injured his left heel during Bolivia's friendly with Chile last week and is questionable for Bolivia's Copa America opener against Paraguay. . . . Rongen said he expects between four and seven United players to be selected by U.S. national team coach Bruce Arena for the Confederations Cup, leaving D.C. without as many as nine starters for the July 25 game at New England. A complete U.S. list will be released within 10 days. . . .
Kansas City, which routed New York/New Jersey 6-0 last weekend, got an offensive boost this week with the addition of Canadian star Alex Bunbury. He's expected to make his MLS debut tonight, although he probably won't start.
Game: vs. Kansas City
Where: RFK Stadium.
When: 7:30 p.m.
TV: NewsChannel 8.
Radio: WACA-1540 (Spanish).
Records: United 10-5, 26 points; Wizards 3-10, 9 points.
D.C. Probable Starters: GK -- Tom Presthus; D -- Diego Sonora, Carlos Llamosa, Jeff Agoos; MF -- Richie Williams, Geoff Aunger, Brian Kamler, Ben Olsen, Jason Moore; F -- A.J. Wood, Roy Lassiter (12 goals, 5 assists).
Wizards' Top Players: MF Preki Radosavljevic (2 goals, 7 assists), F Chris Brown, GK Chris Snitko, D Alexi Lalas, D Scott Vermillion.