D.C. United Coach Thomas Rongen yesterday ruled out the possibility of injured Carlos Llamosa playing in Game 2 of the MLS Eastern Conference finals Sunday at Columbus, leaving the club without its all-star central defender for the fourth consecutive weekend.
"Carlos feels a lot better, but not to the point where I think he can contribute," Rongen said of Llamosa, who sprained the medial collateral ligament in his right knee almost a month ago. "We're not going to push him too quickly, regardless of his value to the team."
But Rongen's decision to leave Llamosa behind has been made significantly easier by the recent performances of his replacement, Carey Talley. Talley, 23, doesn't have Llamosa's tenacity, experience and one-on-one defending abilities, but has formed an outstanding tandem in central defense with former college teammate Eddie Pope and has helped United yield only one goal in the postseason.
Talley, in his second year from the University of North Carolina, has been in and out of the starting lineup since the season began in March. He has filled in for the often-injured Llamosa and stepped in for Pope, who missed two months with a broken foot. He replaced Richie Williams when the starting defensive midfielder was on U.S. national team duty and started at right back when Rongen wanted to shift defender Diego Sonora to the midfield.
"I can't worry about what will happen when Carlos comes back," Talley said. "I just have to concentrate on my role, play hard and help this team win the game. Wherever Thomas needs me, I'll play."
United officials had hoped that Llamosa would be ready to return for the opening game of the conference finals last weekend at RFK Stadium. They then pointed toward Sunday's match. Now, all that remains for Llamosa are a possible Game 3 next weekend in Washington and the MLS championship game Nov. 21 in Foxboro, Mass.
When Llamosa is ready, he probably will return to his starting spot. But Talley might stay in the lineup by moving to right back and replacing Sonora, who would play on the outside of midfield. "If it's a potential quarterback controversy, we'll deal with it when it arrives," Rongen said.
"I think I've done a pretty good job," Talley said. "I've come on a lot stronger during the playoffs now, and I think that has to do with concentration because we know what's on the line. This is the time to be at our best."
United Notes: Midfielder Tony Sanneh, who left D.C. during the last offseason to sign with a German club, is the only remaining U.S. player involved in the prestigious European Champions League. His team, Hertha Berlin, advanced Wednesday despite losing to Chelsea (England) in its first-round group finale.