There was one more player than usual in the traveling party for D.C. United's trip to Columbus, Ohio, yesterday. Good thing, too. Soon after the team arrived, it learned that Argentine attacking midfielder Christian Gomez had received clearance for his international paperwork and is eligible to play against Columbus tonight at Crew Stadium.

"We brought 17 [instead of the normal party of 16] just in case. We were hoping it could happen by today," United spokesman Boris Flores said. "After we landed, our technical director [Dave Kasper] made some calls and found out he was eligible."

Flores said Gomez, the club and Coach Peter Nowak were excited by the news.

"He was very happy," Flores said of Gomez. "He was anxious to find out. Everything is set for him to take the field, if that's what Coach Nowak decides."

Gomez, 29, joined the team last Saturday from Arsenal de Sarandi of the Argentine first division. He also has played for Independiente, Nueva Chicago and Argentinos Juniors in his 13-year career. He has 79 goals in that span.

It is uncertain how much, if at all, he will play tonight for United (6-8-7) against the Crew (7-5-8). But United certainly appears as though it could use him. The team is 1-6-3 on the road this year; it has been outscored 19-8 in those games.

United also has not won in Columbus since July 1999.

Gomez has been practicing as an attacking midfielder, and it appears it did not take him long to make an impression on Nowak.

"With Christian, it's something where he's getting used to new training and a new practice environment," Nowak said yesterday. "But I'm impressed with him after only a couple of days."

While Gomez is eligible to play tonight, United's other new player did not make the trip. Midfielder Tim Lawson, acquired last week from a German third-division team, injured his right thigh in practice on Wednesday and is out until next week.

The second-place Crew is unbeaten in its past eight league games and is four points ahead of United in the Eastern Conference standings.

The teams will play each other one more time, Sept. 25 in Columbus. There are nine games left in the season.

"They're our rivals," United midfielder Earnie Stewart said. "Anytime you play in your conference on the road, you just want to get a result. The rest doesn't matter."

A capacity crowd is expected in Columbus, whose stadium holds 22,555. It is the first time that United teenager Freddy Adu has played there, making Columbus the only MLS city in which he has not yet appeared.

But some of the fans will be there to see another United player. Starting goalkeeper Troy Perkins is from Worthington, Ohio, about 10 minutes from Columbus. It is expected he will have several family members and friends at the game.

Perkins became the starter in late May and has a 1.62 goals against average in 13 starts.

"Troy came out of the blue," Nowak said. "Because of his work ethic, and his ability to organize everything at the back, he's gotten the respect of the players. . . . It's going to be very competitive" when Nick Rimando, who recently had arthroscopic knee surgery, is healthy.

Said Perkins: "I'm pretty comfortable now. I still have to clean up some little things."

When asked if the fans in Columbus were coming just to see him, Perkins smiled.

"Yeah," he said. "I wish."