Through six weeks of the MLS season, D.C. United's attack has been like a brood of cicadas: noisy and annoying but ultimately harmless.
United has swarmed penalty areas and pestered defenders, creating a buzz of excitement at RFK Stadium with its elegant ball movement and threatening runs. But at the end of the day, the attack has died off, leaving the club with a disappointing 1-2-3 record heading into tonight's match against the Kansas City Wizards at RFK Stadium.
"Right now, put the beautiful soccer on the side, play crappy and win the games -- maybe this is the answer," Coach Peter Nowak said yesterday. "The soccer part is very good. We're still going [with] the same kind of concept, the same kind of mentality. . . . At some point, we're going to win, no question."
Other than a wretched second half against the New York/New Jersey MetroStars a month ago, United has displayed an attractive and dominant style that has generated a countless number of scoring opportunities. However, United hasn't translated that supremacy into goals, allowing opponents to remain competitive and steal a victory or tie.
D.C. is averaging 1.17 goals per game, which is fifth best in the 10-team league. But considering the number of squandered chances, club officials believe that figure is woefully inadequate. Last weekend against winless Columbus, United scored an early goal and dictated most of the match. But its inability to stretch the lead cost it dearly as the Crew converted a controversial penalty kick in the final moments and escaped with a 1-1 tie.
"You can't put it on the board, you can't diagram finishing, you can't yell at someone for not finishing," veteran midfielder Ben Olsen said. "You can put them in an environment in a training session to increase their [efficiency]. That's what coach has done; he has given us the opportunity to improve, and you've just got to hope they start going in for us."
Despite being winless since a season-opening victory over defending champion San Jose on April 3, the players seem uncommonly upbeat.
"There's not much frustration because we know if we keep the faith, it's going to work out," Olsen said. "Last year, if we had tied these type of games, we would be frustrated because we played just awful. Now we're playing well and getting the tie, so there's a difference there. We can fall back on how well we're playing -- there are so many more positives than negatives."
Still, United's scoring production from its forwards will need to increase. Jaime Moreno and Alecko Eskandarian haven't scored since the opener. Freddy Adu, 14, scored as a reserve in his third game and has started the past two matches, but he's still finding his way at the pro level. Veteran Ronald Cerritos has played only 74 minutes in three appearances (he scored at Los Angeles), but with the team set to play three games in eight days, he's sure to get a starting nod very soon.
United's leading scorer with two goals is a defensive midfielder, Dema Kovalenko, who provided both goals in a pair of 1-1 ties the past two weeks.
Nowak will have to make adjustments today because of the absence of midfielder Bobby Convey, who is sidelined indefinitely with a hamstring injury. The simplest move would be to insert rookie Josh Gros (two assists in six appearances) in Convey's place on the left flank, but Nowak is also considering using Kovalenko on the wing. He also has the option of starting three forwards, with the composed Moreno playing behind Adu and Cerritos or Eskandarian.
"We're not going to change a lot, I would expect," Nowak said. "We have a couple of options. We're going to talk and decide what to do. . . . The system -- you can put whatever you want out there -- it depends how the players execute."
United Notes: Defender Ryan Nelsen didn't practice yesterday in order to receive unspecified treatments, but is expected to start today. . . . Rookie goalkeeper Troy Perkins was loaned to the minor league Northern Virginia Royals for a pair of games in North Carolina this weekend.