Over the years, D.C. United grew accustomed to playing short-handed when a handful of its stars was called away for national team duty or sidelined with injuries. But today, against the New England Revolution at Foxboro Stadium, United will confront an unparalleled personnel crisis.
Seven regular starters and one part-time starter are unavailable, leaving United with a ragtag lineup that includes two defenders who have played a combined 46 minutes this season and two midfielders who joined the club just five days ago. The five reserves have a combined seven appearances and no goals or assists.
"We don't have much left, but there's really a tremendous confidence," Coach Thomas Rongen said with a smile. "I think there's something about missing a lot of players that puts things into place for the young players. It's a bonding: We're going to suffer together, we're going to fight together, we're going to win together."
Six of United's missing starters are in Mexico for the FIFA Confederations Cup, four with the U.S. national team (defenders Carlos Llamosa and Jeff Agoos and midfielders Ben Olsen and Richie Williams) and two with Bolivia (midfielder Marco Etcheverry and forward Jaime Moreno).
Also, starting right back Diego Sonora has a groin injury and did not make the trip and rookie midfielder Jason Moore, who has 11 starts, is suspended by Major League Soccer for one match for an accumulation of yellow cards.
Nonetheless, Rongen has available two of his top three scorers -- forwards Roy Lassiter and A.J. Wood, who have combined for 19 goals -- and two defensive all-stars: goalkeeper Tom Presthus and central back Eddie Pope.
However, Pope has played in only two league games in nearly three months because of a broken foot and then a strained knee, and is not in prime condition.
Making their debuts today are John Maessner and Chris Albright, who were acquired in a trade with the Miami Fusion last weekend. Maessner is expected to start on the left flank in midfield and Albright, who also plays forward, on the right side.
Rongen's biggest concerns are left back Clint Peay (one game), right back Judah Cooks (three) and playmaker Antonio Otero (seven) because of their infrequent use.
"When situations come up like this, when we're down a lot of talent than we're used to, you have to want to win very badly," Lassiter said. "This is, again, another time for these guys who haven't been playing to show that they belong. They've been waiting for this moment."
Rongen was pleased with his players' approach in practice this week, sessions that required the addition of several outsiders to complete scrimmage teams.
Among the invitees were former Howard University defender Ray Goodlett, a minor league player who traveled with United and is eligible to play today; midfielder Todd Haskins, who plays for the minor league Maryland Mania; Lee High School graduate Mondell Opoku, who wants to pursue a career in Europe; and Rongen's 16-year-old stepson, Chris.
After today, United does not have another league game until Aug. 8 against Tampa Bay at RFK Stadium. It will play, however, at minor league Charleston (S.C.) Aug. 4 in the round of 16 of the U.S. Open Cup.
If the United States and Bolivia fail to advance past the first round of the Confederations Cup, six United players may be back next weekend.
"There's no doubt in my mind we can win" today, Rongen said. "The boys look forward to the challenge."
D.C. UNITED PREVIEW
Game: vs. New England Revolution.
Where: Foxboro Stadium.
When: 1 p.m.
Radio: WACA-1540 (Spanish).
Records: United 12-7, 30 points; Revolution 8-9, 18 points.
D.C. Probable Starters: GK -- Tom Presthus; D -- Judah Cooks, Eddie Pope, Carey Talley, Clint Peay; MF -- Geoff Aunger, Chris Albright, John Maessner, Antonio Otero; F -- A.J. Wood (5 goals, 4 assists), Roy Lassiter (14, 7).
Revolution Top Players: F Giovanni Savarese (6 goals, 2 assists), D Mike Burns, GK Walter Zenga, D Dan Calichman, D-MF Ted Chronopoulos.