D.C. United has become Major League Soccer's most successful team by acquiring established U.S. stars, promising college players and standouts from Central and South America. Now the club has decided to look in its own backyard for help.
United Coach Thomas Rongen said yesterday that he plans to scout players at local Latin American league matches this weekend.
"I want to see if there's some talent out there," Rongen said. "A lot of times those leagues are where you find the diamonds in the rough. There are three or four leagues where we've been told there are some players we need to look at."
U.S. ethnic leagues, particularly in Latin American communities, are considered untapped resources for talented young players who haven't been identified through mainstream soccer programs. But Rongen cautioned that even if he identifies a player, he won't make any roster moves until the offseason and that the club will continue to look for players from conventional sources.
United already has discovered one player in a local league -- 18-year-old midfielder Jose Alegria. However, Alegria, who had been living in Northern Virginia with an uncle, has been in his native Peru for several months waiting for work documents to be approved by the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service. United officials hope he will be eligible in the next several weeks.
Aside from looking for players, Rongen's scouting trip this weekend also appears to be an effort to reach out to fans in the Latin American community who haven't attended United home games as frequently the last two seasons since popular Salvadoran forward Raul Diaz Arce was traded last year.
The club's efforts to repair those ties began early this season when Rongen and Kevin Payne, United's president and general manager, met with leaders in the Salvadoran American community.
Despite the drop in Hispanic fans, United's home attendance has risen 17 percent this year to a league-leading 18,712 -- the first time in the advanced stages of the regular season that United has been at the top of the 12-team league.
United has seven home games remaining, two against the Tampa Bay Mutiny -- Diaz Arce's new team after he was traded from San Jose a few weeks ago. When Diaz Arce came to town for United's home opener, more than 35,000 attended and many cheered for San Jose.
"We would like to get those fans back supporting D.C. United," Rongen said. "This is their local team, regardless of where the players are from."
United Notes: Midfielder Marco Etcheverry, who is playing for Bolivia at the Confederations Cup in Mexico, said this week he will retire from the national team after this tournament. "He has made those statements before, so we'll see," Rongen said. . . .
Five United players -- midfielders Chris Albright, Jason Moore and Antonio Otero, forward David Hayes and defender Judah Cooks -- will join MLS's Project-40 developmental squad today for games Friday at Richmond and Saturday at Hampton Roads.
RAPIDS 1, GALAXY 0: Jorge Dely Valdez scored his fifth game-winning goal of the season to lead Colorado in Denver. Valdez got the game's only goal in the 34th minute.