- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 5, 2003

If Dante Washington had his way, he would be starting for D.C. United tonight.

Instead, the two-time former Major League Soccer All-Star will be on the other side of the pitch when Washington’s A-League Virginia Beach Mariners take on United in the fourth round of the U.S. Open Cup at the Maryland SoccerPlex.

United wanted a target forward and a physical presence, so it pursued Washington last winter, but the offer was too low.

“The money was similar to what a rookie would get [$25,000],” Washington said. “I wasn’t asking for a boatload of money like $100,000 or $150,000. It got to the point where they said ‘there’s no spot for you at D.C. United.’ I wouldn’t say their interest was very high.”

United’s two-year search for that goal scorer continues. According to Washington, nothing in his A-League contract prevents him from returning to MLS.

Oddly, United appears willing to shell out upward of $100,000 on a foreign goal scorer but wouldn’t budge on a proven American striker who wouldn’t count against the league’s three-international limit.

In seven MLS seasons with the Dallas Burn and Columbus Crew, Washington scored 52 goals and added 29 assists in 160 games. In 17 playoff games, Washington had five goals and an assist. Washington also played for two teams that won the U.S. Open Cup, the Dallas Burn in 1997, when they beat United 5-3 on penalty kicks, and the Crew last season.

“At the time we were talking to Dante, it could have got done,” United coach Ray Hudson said. “This was before a ball was kicked when we had Earnie Stewart, Alecko Eskandarian, Hristo Stoitchkov, Ali Curtis and Eliseo Quintanilla as our forwards, and we still wanted Dante. When we came back, not a falling out but just a parting of the ways. He wanted to play, and we couldn’t guarantee that with our lineup. It’s 20/20. The forwards haven’t worked out quite as good as we hoped, and that’s an honest comment.”

The 32-year-old Washington, who grew up in Columbia, Md., and resides in Manassas, Va., is tearing up the A-League in his first season with the Mariners. He is tied for first in the league with 15 goals and has one assist in 20 games.

“Obviously, there’s some incentive to stick it in their face, but advancing in the U.S. Open Cup is more incentive to keep going,” Washington said. “They chose to go in a different direction.”

The Mariners (10-8-2) are third in the A-League’s Southeast Division. They have won their past four games — in all competitions — all by shutout. In past editions of the U.S. Open Cup, there always has been at least one minor league team that has upset an MLS team. This year, though, all 10 MLS teams remain alive in the round of 16. The Mariners’ six attacking players all have MLS experience.

“Dante Washington is a guy I know very well. I’ve played against him for the last six years, and he’s a player who could and probably should still be in this league,” United central defender Mike Petke said. “They have [MLS all-time leading goal scorer] Roy Lassiter, too. He’s a little bit older but definitely still has got it in him. It’s not something that we’re worried about, like nervous about, but it’s something that we’ve got to be aware of.”

United reached this round with a 2-1 victory over the A-League’s Pittsburgh Riverhounds at the Maryland SoccerPlex on July 16. After that win, Hudson lambasted his younger players for not giving a complete effort. They allowed a 74th-minute goal and were forced to hang on the final 15 minutes.

Hudson is going with his youth again. Rookie Doug Warren will spell Nick Rimando in goal. Bryan Namoff, Petke, Brandon Prideaux and rookie David Stokes will form Hudson’s backline defense. Rookie Brian Carroll will play left-flank midfield with Chino Alegria and Bobby Convey positioned centrally in the midfield and Ben Olsen out right. Up top, Hudson is going with Quintanilla, who assisted on both goals against the Riverhounds, and Eskandarian.

“[United] must believe in their youth, or they wouldn’t put them on the field,” Washington said. “Tomorrow at about 9 p.m. or 10 p.m., we’ll find out.”

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