D.C. United's regular season schedule was unveiled yesterday, and the club's first task was figuring out how many games each of its star players would miss. With Bolivia's World Cup qualifying beginning in March, U.S. Olympic qualifying set for April and the U.S. national team planning several games this year, United officials are bracing for several shorthanded outings during its 32-game campaign.
The biggest concern is the availability of Bolivian midfielder Marco Etcheverry and forward Jaime Moreno, who may miss one-fourth of the MLS season because of national team duty, including United's season opener against Los Angeles March 25 at RFK Stadium. Bolivia opens South American competition to qualify for the 2002 World Cup March 28 or 29 at Uruguay, and if the players are recalled, they would have to report at least five days in advance.
However, there still is some question whether Etcheverry, one of Bolivia's most accomplished players, and Moreno, a highly regarded forward, are in Bolivia's long-term plans.
"I've spoken to both of them, and they're not sure about their status," United Coach Thomas Rongen said. "If they're selected, I'm sure they will be good soldiers and play for their country at the start of qualifying, but after that, we'll have to see how they fit into Bolivia's plans."
Four United players--forward Chris Albright and midfielders Ben Olsen, Jason Moore and Antonio Otero--are in the running for spots on the U.S. Olympic team, an under-23 squad that will attempt to qualify for a berth in the Sydney Games April 21-30 in Hershey, Pa. The U.S. team also will go on a exhibition tour in Portugal during MLS's preseason and, if it qualifies for the Olympics, will re-assemble for final training in August.
In addition, eight D.C. players could be affected by the U.S. national team's schedule, which will include exhibitions against Tunisia in March and Russia in late April, the U.S. Cup tournament in early June and the World Cup qualifying opener in September.
To compound matters, the MLS regular season is about a month shorter but with the same number of games.
"Looking at it now, we should have gone to a 28-game schedule," Rongen said. "For every team, not just us, it's going to be tough to field competitive teams at some points during the season, and from a physical and emotional standpoint, it's going to be very difficult as well."
With the league using three conferences instead of two this year, United will play four games against each of its conference opponents--New England, New York/New Jersey and Miami--as well as four against the top team in each of the other divisions--Dallas and Los Angeles. D.C. will play each of the other six teams twice.
United Notes: Forward A.J. Wood re-signed with the league for four years, including two option years. . . . Former Canadian national team defender Frank Yallop was named assistant coach. . . . Tampa officials have been unable to finalize plans to host the MLS title game, so RFK may end up as the site of the Oct. 15 match.