- The Washington Times - Friday, June 6, 2003

Forgive me for the ramblings, but I’m worried about D.C. United these days. The club must be cursed: Seven games into the season, the team is still looking for its first win.

United seems to be in good company. The Los Angeles Galaxy have yet to record a victory after eight games. The catch? Los Angeles won the title last season and finally gets to play at home today in a new soccer-specific stadium. United, on the other hand, hasn’t picked up any silverware since 1999 — the last time it made the playoffs. Those loyal fans in the drafty seats at RFK Stadium are getting restless and deserve better.

How much of the damage is self-inflicted — bad trades, etc. — and how much is bad luck would make for a great debate. But it’s much too early to point fingers, even though some critics already are sharpening their knives. Meanwhile, I’m begging the gods to help D.C. pull out a win tonight against the visiting Chicago Fire.

I know I should be impartial and all that, but I’m losing sleep over this team. Not since David Beckham broke his foot have I fretted so much. I’m waking up at all hours with a recurring nightmare. There’s a big zero under United’s “W” column, and snow is in the forecast.

United coach Ray Hudson seems to be holding up even though he’s watching his back for some Brutus.

“I can sleep well at night knowing I have a good team,” Hudson said. “It’s not as if we have been dismantled. We’ve just been very unlucky, and it takes a big cynic to say, ‘No that’s not the problem.’”

He’s got a point. This team is not playing badly. The defense is solid when Ryan Nelsen is around, and Bobby Convey is playing some delightful soccer. The 20-year-old midfielder appears on the verge of blossoming into a great player. His confidence is sky high, and you just hope it rubs off on the rest of the United gang. Sadly, both Nelsen (New Zealand’s team) and Convey (United States) will be gone for nearly a month after tonight’s game to compete at the Confederations Cup in France.

Obviously, what United needs is a player who can turn a half-chance into a goal.

“We are missing that guy up front,” Hudson said. “Imagine Man. U without [Ruud Van] Nistelrooy or Newcastle without [Alan] Shearer.”

I can’t, Ray. It would be like drinking my tea without milk and sugar.

Critics say Hudson had his chance to get his man when he recruited U.S. team forward Earnie Stewart. But let’s face it: The scoreless Stewart is having a rotten time acclimatizing to Major League Soccer.

“That’s fair criticism,” Hudson said. “That part hasn’t worked out. Earnie’s had his opportunities in front of goal. It’s not all his fault.”

The club is looking for a forward to rescue the team but don’t hold your breath for a messiah, or even Michael Owen.

“In two weeks’ time, we could have four international players competing for that spot,” Hudson said. “They’ve got to come to prove themselves, with the reward coming next season.”

I’m guilty of gravitating toward the underdog. Years ago I used to feel sorry for visiting teams that got whacked by United’s brilliant lineup. At times I even secretly rooted for other clubs. Back then, United had a certain swagger — even a tinge of arrogance.

“We want to win forever,” said Kevin Payne, then United’s general manager.

Then Lady Luck took the train out of town. Now if Hudson can only woo her back.

I’ll admit my feelings are somewhat tribal about this club now. Like me, Hudson is a slightly nutty, working-class Brit. He’s had no bed of roses this year. His ulcer has been acting up, and a recent operation on his mouth has been bothering him — and you know how much this coach loves to talk. But Hudson, 47, knows soccer is a cruel business. His mother even warned him.

“She begged me not to get into this, knowing what abuse coaches go through when times get rough,” he said.

Hudson escapes from the pressure by reading Bill Bryson travel books and has just laughed his way through Woody Allen’s “Without Feathers.” There are still 23 games in the season, and he believes United’s best games are yet to come.

“People can draw their own conclusions [about the team and me], and that’s the melodrama of sports,” Hudson said.

Just give us a win, Ray. I know it’s only a game, but as former Italian coach Arrigo Sacchi once said, “It’s the most important of the least important things in life.”

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