There are a number of reasons for concluding that D.C. United's prospects for victory tonight in Denver aren't very bright.
Three days ago, United was smashed at home by the Los Angeles Galaxy, 4-2. Injuries will likely prevent three key starters, including all-star defender Ryan Nelsen, from playing again. The goalkeeping job is apparently up for grabs after Nick Rimando's performance on Wednesday. The club is playing its third match in eight days to finish one of its busiest stretches of the season.
And the Colorado Rapids haven't lost at Invesco Field in 371 days and are expecting top scorer John Spencer to return from injury tonight.
"We're going to be all right, but we need to get back to our [winning] mentality," United Coach Peter Nowak said. "We're going to do everything we can to fix it."
United (2-3-3) will play its next three matches on the road after claiming just four of a possible nine points in the standings during a three-game homestand.
The biggest disappointment was the final 10 minutes of the first half on Wednesday when the Galaxy scored all its goals, three by emerging forward Alejandro Moreno. United didn't pressure the ball in midfield sufficiently, allowing experienced Austrian playmaker Andreas Herzog to find Moreno time and again. Rimando's follies -- a missed punch attempt on a corner kick and a shot that went between his legs -- handed Los Angeles its first two goals.
Rimando, who recovered from major knee surgery last fall to win the starting job in the season opener, has had an inconsistent year. He allowed only two goals in the first two games, but mistakes on crosses and corner kicks had the coaching staff concerned. Doug Warren started Game 3 at the Meadowlands, and despite making a few excellent saves, he also yielded a soft goal during a 3-2 loss to the MetroStars.
Rimando returned to the lineup and seemed to have straightened himself out -- until Wednesday.
"I think everybody was pretty disappointed in themselves," team president Kevin Payne said. "Nick didn't have a good game, but he wasn't the only one."
Said Nowak, "Nicky made a mistake, a big mistake, on the first goal, and the game opened a little bit."
Nowak could turn to Warren tonight, but he also may be concerned that benching Rimando will damage his confidence. Nowak's decision won't be revealed until game time.
Whoever is in goal probably won't have Nelsen anchoring the central defense. Sidelined by a groin injury and lower leg problems Wednesday, he doesn't appear ready to return to the lineup. Midfielders Bobby Convey (hamstring) and Ben Olsen (calf) also appear doubtful.
Nelsen's situation is the trickiest because he is scheduled to fly to Australia on Sunday and play for New Zealand's national team at the start of 2006 World Cup qualifying. United officials have updated the New Zealand soccer federation with Nelsen's medical status, and although he is still planning to make the trip, he may refrain from intense workouts and games for a few days.
Nelsen was already set to miss United's matches on May 29 at New England and June 5 at Chicago because of national team duty. Veteran Mike Petke, who started on Wednesday in Nelsen's place, is expected to continue in that central role.
If Convey and Olsen, United's creative elements in midfield, remain sidelined, forward Jaime Moreno probably will orchestrate the attack.
Nowak will then have to choose among his other healthy forwards -- Freddy Adu, Ronald Cerritos and Alecko Eskandarian -- to form a striking partnership. Cerritos and Adu (who entered 15 minutes into the second half) scored splendid goals against Los Angeles, but Eskandarian's persistence may earn him the starting job over Adu, who earned praise from the coach.
"He's doing great," Nowak said. "He's the guy right now who's very comfortable in the situation. His mentality is unbelievable."