D.C. United Coach Thomas Rongen was pleased that the U.S. men's national team earned a 2-2 tie in Jamaica Wednesday night. He was delighted that United midfielder Richie Williams served as captain, that D.C. rookie Chris Albright scored the tying goal just two minutes into his U.S. debut and that United's Ben Olsen helped set it up.
But Rongen wasn't thrilled that Williams and Olsen played the entire match in Kingston, leaving their status uncertain for United's road game tonight against the Tampa Bay Mutiny.
"I'd prefer less minutes, but I can't dictate that," Rongen said yesterday at United Park. "When you let them go [to the national team], you sometimes have to expect they'll play 90 minutes. . . .
"I'm not going to jeopardize any of those players by forcing them to play [in Tampa]. It doesn't make any sense. But I'm not going to jeopardize the overall team as far as the result is concerned. I want to put the most competitive team on the field, but that means it could be with them or without them."
United defender Eddie Pope also played for the United States, remaining in the game until midway through the second half. Albright played the final 12 minutes. Two Tampa Bay players were in Jamaica, but defender Chad McCarty played just 22 minutes and midfielder Steve Ralston did not play at all.
The four D.C. players left Kingston early yesterday for a day of rest in Tampa, where they awaited the arrival of the team. While Albright will be available and Pope probably will be ready, Rongen said he planned to talk to Williams and Olsen and determine how long they could play tonight.
Rongen will not have goalkeeper Tom Presthus, who didn't travel with the team because of a mildly sprained right ankle. Last weekend Presthus returned from a three-game absence caused by a sprained left knee ligament, but was hurt in the second half of a 4-1 victory over Dallas.
"I can do a lot on it [the ankle], but there's still some soreness," Presthus said after participating in part of yesterday's practice. "I can deal with the pain, but it's just not strong enough and really weak in some areas. If this game had been on Sunday, I think I'd have a chance to play. Unfortunately, it was a short week."
Mark Simpson, who played well in Presthus's earlier absence, will start. The club also has retained Jon Busch, a North Carolina Charlotte graduate with quick reflexes who had been playing for the A-League's Hampton Roads Mariners.
"We want to make sure Tom is 100 percent before he comes back," Rongen said. "The fact that Mark has played well makes this decision a lot easier."
The way United (20-7, 50 points) has been playing also makes it easier. It has won eight straight -- one short of the club record set last year -- and is on the brink up wrapping up home-field advantage throughout the Eastern Conference playoffs.
A United victory and a loss by second-place Columbus (16-10, 38 points) Sunday would clinch first place for the third straight year, but the Crew is hosting last-place New York/New Jersey, which has lost 12 in a row.
The Mutiny, which has won four in a row to move into third place, has built a strong attack led by Colombian star Carlos Valderrama and former United striker Raul Diaz Arce.
Soccer Notes: United midfielder Jason Moore, defender Judah Cooks and forward David Hayes joined MLS's developmental squad for an A-League playoff game this weekend. Last week, United midfielder Antonio Otero scored two goals and Hayes added one in that team's 4-3 loss to San Francisco Bay. . . .
Defender Alexander Yi (Easton, Md.) and forward Abe Thompson (W.T. Woodson High) scored in the U.S. under-17 national team's 4-0 victory over host Jamaica Wednesday night.
Game: vs. Tampa Bay Mutiny.
Where: Raymond James Stadium.
When: 7:30 p.m.
TV: NewsChannel 8.
Radio: WACA-1540 (Spanish).
Records: United 20-7, 50 points; Mutiny 13-14, 29 points.
D.C. Probable Starters: GK -- Mark Simpson; D -- Diego Sonora, Eddie Pope, Carlos Llamosa, Jeff Agoos; MF -- Richie Williams, John Maessner, Ben Olsen (5 goals, 10 assists), Marco Etcheverry (4, 17); F -- Jaime Moreno (8, 13), Roy Lassiter (16, 10).
Mutiny Top Players: F Raul Diaz Arce (12 goals, 7 assists), F Musa Shannon (11, 5), MF Carlos Valderrama, MF Steve Ralston, D Joseph Addo.