In years past, D.C. United wouldn't have had much chance in a match like the one Saturday afternoon at Home Depot Center. The combination of United playing on the road for the second time in four days against a team undefeated at home probably would have undermined D.C.'s hopes.
United, however, is showing signs of life after dismal road records the five previous MLS seasons and appears in position to pull off a surprise this weekend against the Los Angeles Galaxy.
D.C. is 2-3-4 away from RFK Stadium, the only victories against last-place teams Chivas USA and Columbus, but all three losses were by one goal and three of the ties easily could have turned in its favor.
"We've learned to focus and concentrate and, over the course of the season, the play speaks for itself," Coach Peter Nowak said. "We don't have all good results but the way we play has been better. We haven't made many mistakes and we've presented ourselves much better."
Between 2000 and 2004, United had a combined 11-49-14 road record, including 2-8-5 last year. The club began to turn things around late last season by beating the MetroStars twice at Giants Stadium and edging Kansas City on neutral turf here in MLS Cup.
This week promised to be tricky. Yet United's players and coaches said they felt they should have triumphed Wednesday at Kansas City (where they haven't won in four years) after failing to convert late scoring opportunities. Nonetheless, a second straight tie at Arrowhead Stadium provided a dose of confidence before heading to the West Coast.
"We just go out and play our game now," forward Freddy Adu said. "Last year on the road, we would go and play too stiff and it cost us. But this year we've talked about playing the same way on the road as at home, the same mentality. If you do that, you're going to get better results, and we are."
United (7-6-5) will confront its greatest challenge of the summer Saturday against a Los Angeles club that is 7-0-3 at Home Depot Center this year and has a 17-game home unbeaten streak, which began 13 months ago. (The Galaxy's 2-0 loss to world power Real Madrid on Monday didn't count.) Conversely, the Galaxy (8-6-4) has been a disaster on the road; its only "away" victory coming against Chivas USA, which also plays its home matches at Home Depot Center. Other than that, Los Angeles hasn't earned a road win since defeating Chicago at Soldier Field more than a year ago.
United is unbeaten in its last three visits to Carson, tying the Galaxy early last season, claiming MLS Cup in November and beating expansion Chivas USA in the 2005 season opener.
Commenting on this year's modest improvement, goalkeeper Nick Rimando said: "We didn't want to be in the same position as last year. We knew what it was like, not winning on the road. This year Peter has stressed fighting and getting results on the road. We have an attitude and a confidence that we can do well."
United Notes: MetroStars President Alexi Lalas was fined $2,000 by MLS for suggesting last month that Adu would be better off playing for his club rather than United. D.C. officials had said Lalas should be reprimanded for tampering. . . . Galaxy forward Jovan Kirovski (four goals, four assists) must serve a two-game suspension, starting Saturday, and pay $1,000 for elbowing a Chivas USA player last week. . . . United's Nana Kuffour is back in Washington after suffering severe heat exhaustion during a reserve game at Kansas City on Thursday. . . . United's Ben Olsen and Santino Quaranta and the Galaxy's Landon Donovan, L.A.'s leading scorer, are unavailable because of U.S. national team duty.