- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 6, 2003

With nine games left in a topsy-turvy season, D.C. United coach Ray Hudson is working on solidifying his starting lineup, beginning tonight as the club plays the Los Angeles Galaxy at RFK Stadium.

United’s lineup has changed constantly this year because of injuries, erratic form and on-and-off trades. Now, with the club holding the third spot in a very tight Eastern Division, Hudson is warning his players that there can be no room for mistakes.

“We’ve got ourselves in a good position — now we’ve got to see what we are made of,” Hudson said. “If we slip off the ledge against Los Angeles, it will be time for me to stop putting faith in big-name players. I’m demanding maximum performance from every one. I’ll be telling them, ‘If you don’t perform, you will be out.’ It’s jungle mentality now.”

With back-to-back home games against the Galaxy and the San Jose Earthquakes, United (7-8-6, 27 points) has a real chance of distancing itself from the Columbus Crew (7-9-6, 27 points) and New England Revolution (6-8-8, 26 points) in the race for a playoff spot.

“It will be ultra-competitive from now on,” Hudson said. “We have too much talent, and we are knocking on the door. I will make changes, and some players will be [angry] with me.”

United’s revolving door continued this week when the club signed Brazilian forward Thiago Martins, who led A-League scorers this season with 22 goals for the Pittsburgh Riverhounds. Martins could see some playing time today.

Midfielder Bobby Convey, who was denied a work permit to play for Tottenham Hotspur in England 10 days ago, is back with United, but Hudson is unlikely to start him against the Galaxy. Convey missed three United games before the Tottenham deal collapsed.

“I have to give him a soft landing,” Hudson said. “I have to respect the rest of the team and what they have accomplished recently.”

Talented forward, Santino Quaranta also could see some action today after being sidelined since July27 with a sprained knee.

Hudson is delighted with the play of midfielders Eliseo Quintanilla, Earnie Stewart and newcomer Ronald Cerritos, who all performed well in United’s 3-1 win over El Salvador last week, but he would like to see veteran midfielders Marco Etcheverry and Ben Olsen step up their game. Etcheverry missed practice Wednesday with a stomach ailment, and although Olsen works tirelessly on the flanks, he has yet to regain the form that once made him a starter on the U.S. national team.

United’s defenders will have their hands full dealing with the Galaxy’s scoring machine, Carlos Ruiz. The 24-year-old Guatemalan called “El Pescadito [“The Little Fish”], scored a league-leading 24 goals in his rookie season last year in Major League Soccer, including the game-winner in the championship game against the New England Revolution in double overtime. In 19 games this season, Ruiz has 13 goals and three assists.

“He’s the best forward in the league by a wide margin, and if he sees the door open slightly, he will kick it in,” Hudson said.

This could be Ruiz’s last season in MLS. Clubs in Europe are watching the striker closely, and he has said he would like to play in Spain. He is currently in the second year of a five-year contract.

The Galaxy (7-7-8, 29 points) are coming off a scoreless tie against the Chinese national team on Wednesday.

Corner kicks — The U.S. women’s national team plays Mexico tomorrow at Spartan Stadium in San Jose (ESPN, 1 p.m.) in its final match before opening its World Cup campaign against Sweden on Sept.21 at RFK Stadium. … The Maryland men’s teams will meet American University tomorrow at 2:30 p.m. in the Maryland Soccer Classic at Ludwig Field in College Park.

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