For one of the few times during this unsettling season, D.C. United does not have anyone sidelined by injury or away on national team duty. But that does not mean the club will be at full strength tonight when it tries to extend its winning streak to eight games against the Dallas Burn at RFK Stadium.
Goalkeeper Tom Presthus and defenders Diego Sonora and Carlos Llamosa have been cleared to play after missing several games with injuries, but midfielders Richie Williams and Geoff Aunger will watch from the bench while serving one-game league suspensions. Williams received a red card in last week's victory at Colorado and Aunger is out for accumulating yellow cards.
"It would be nice to have everyone available but at this point of the season, the important thing is getting healthy," Coach Thomas Rongen said yesterday.
Presthus was named the starter yesterday after recovering from a sprained knee ligament that kept him out for three games. Mark Simpson played well in his place, particularly in a dazzling display against Miami on July 25.
Rongen considered sticking with Simpson for at least another game but said, "Tom is back where we want him to be. As I told Tom and Mark, it's Tom's job to lose. One of the great things is that we now have competition at that position based on Mark's performance, and I have no qualms going back to Mark if needed."
Presthus practiced the last three days without the use of a brace and is eager to return.
"It was tough sitting on the sidelines," he said. "I'm refreshed and ready to go after that little vacation, and hopefully I can come out and play well. The knee isn't perfect, but it's as good as it's going to get."
Presthus also will have a stronger defense in front of him. Sonora probably will start after missing all but nine minutes of the previous four matches with a groin muscle injury, and Llamosa likely will enter as a reserve following a two-month absence because of a strained quadriceps muscle.
With three players back and two others out, Rongen said he expects to use a formation with three defenders and five midfielders. Central back Carey Talley will move into Williams's spot, Ben Olsen will shift into central midfield where Aunger had been playing and rookie Chris Albright will move into Olsen's usual spot on one of the flanks.
The return of three injured players could not have come at a better time for Rongen, who is fine-tuning his club for next month's playoffs as well as the CONCACAF Champions Cup in Las Vegas in about three weeks.
With six games left in the regular season, United (19-7) already has clinched a playoff berth and is nearing home-field advantage throughout the Eastern Conference playoffs. United's current winning streak matches its longest unbeaten run this season and is two short of the club record set last year.
After tonight's game, however, United returns to its chaotic player situation. Albright, Olsen, Williams and defender Eddie Pope leave Sunday to join the U.S. national team in preparation for Wednesday's friendly match in Jamaica. They then will rejoin United Thursday in Tampa for a game the next evening against the Mutiny.
Soccer Notes: Rookies Antonio Otero and David Hayes are with MLS's Project-40 developmental squad this weekend and are not available for United's match tonight. . . .
Before facing the United States, Jamaica lost to Canada, 1-0, Thursday night in Toronto on a 53rd-minute goal by 21-year-old midfielder Jim Brennan, who plays for Bristol City in England. . . .
The U.S. women's national team plays Ireland today at Foxboro (Mass.) Stadium in its first game since winning the Women's World Cup in July.