D.C. United's player carousel will take another spin this week, with defender Eddie Pope possibly falling off with another injury and Bolivians Marco Etcheverry and Jaime Moreno probably hopping on for a brief ride.
Pope, a two-time all-star who missed most of the past two months with a broken foot, has a strained knee and may sit out tonight's Eastern Conference showdown with host Columbus Crew. In his first start since late April on Sunday, Pope was injured attempting a tackle late in United's 2-1 shootout loss to the San Jose Clash.
"It's nothing serious, but we're not going to rush him back," Coach Thomas Rongen said. "We'll see how he feels in the next 24 hours."
If Pope isn't ready tonight, Carey Talley probably will join Carlos Llamosa and Jeff Agoos in the starting defensive lineup.
While Pope's status is uncertain, United officials are optimistic that Etcheverry and Moreno will play Saturday against the Colorado Rapids at RFK Stadium. Both have been on national team duty, but with Bolivia's elimination from the first round of the Copa America tournament in Paraguay Monday night, they are expected to return in the next day or two.
"We're trying to track them down, but it's been our understanding all along that they would return right away," United President and General Manager Kevin Payne said.
It would be a brief stay, however. With United off for two weeks following Saturday's game, Etcheverry and Moreno will report back to Bolivia for the FIFA Confederations Cup, which begins July 24 in Mexico.
United needs both of them. Etcheverry's playmaking skills have been sorely missed as rookies Antonio Otero and Jason Moore struggled in central midfield, and second-year star Ben Olsen hasn't been as effective there as he's been at his usual position on the right wing.
Moreno's creativity and scoring touch would boost United's attack and take pressure off striker Roy Lassiter, Major League Soccer's top scorer who missed a penalty kick Sunday.
As for tonight, "This is one of the biggest games of the year so far," Rongen said. "We've got to play that way and understand the importance of the game."
The Crew has won four straight -- including a 3-0 victory at Western Conference-leading Colorado last weekend -- to move within six points of United in the standings.
Tonight's game was scheduled for Sept. 15, but was moved because Crew Stadium will host the U.S. Open Cup final that week. Because the game isn't televised, United will provide live updates on its Web site, www.dcunited.com
Soccer Notes: Officials for Cooke Stadium, which made its soccer debut by hosting three Women's World Cup doubleheaders, have been contacted about possibly hosting an international exhibition later this year between two of Latin America's most popular teams, Boca Juniors of Argentina and Guadalajara Chivas of Mexico. . . .
The New York/New Jersey MetroStars finally bolstered their roster with foreign players, acquiring Yugoslavian midfielder Sasa Curcic, 27, from England's Crystal Palace and Iranian defender Mohammad Khakpour, 30, from Bahman of Tehran.
"I am a football player, not a politician," the Belgrade-born Curcic said. "I look forward to coming to America." . . .
Tampa Bay's R.T. Moore, a 23-year-old starting central defender from the University of Maryland, will retire this week in order to attend dental school at Southern Illinois. His final game is Thursday against San Jose.
Game: vs. Columbus Crew.
Where: Crew Stadium.
When: 7:30 p.m.
Radio: WACA-1540 (Spanish).
Records: United 11-6, 29 points; Crew 11-5, 23 points.
D.C. Probable Starters: GK -- Tom Presthus; D -- Carey Talley, Carlos Llamosa, Jeff Agoos; MF -- Richie Williams, Diego Sonora, Geoff Aunger, Brian Kamler, Ben Olsen; F -- A.J. Wood, Roy Lassiter (14 goals, 5 assists).
Crew Top Players: F Stern John (8 goals), F Brian McBride, D Thomas Dooley, MF Brian Maisonneuve, GK Mark Dougherty.