- The Washington Times - Friday, June 18, 2004

Without defender and captain Ryan Nelsen, D.C. United is in trouble.

Just check the numbers. In the four games Nelsen missed between May19 and June5 because of a strained groin and New Zealand national team duty, United’s reconfigured defense allowed nine goals and went 1-3. The club has allowed 17 goals in 12 games overall, meaning the defense is porous when Nelsen isn’t in the lineup.

Struggling United (3-5-4) could face another onslaught tonight against the Columbus Crew (4-3-3) at RFK Stadium because Nelsen is listed as questionable with a groin problem.

Of United’s shortcomings when he’s absent, Nelsen said, “I think it was a bit of an organizational problem, but I think the guys have addressed it. Sometimes you just have to sit down and talk. Everybody kind of panicked instead of talking about it and getting to the root of the problems.”

United’s problems aren’t isolated in the back. The club has failed to score a goal in three straight matches and has found the net just 12 times in 12 games. United’s last victory came May29 in New England when Revolution defender Brian Kamler’s own goal gave United a 1-0 win.

Forwards Eliseo Quintanilla and Thiago Martins have undergone surgery and likely are out for the season, although United has placed neither on the injured list. United (3-5-4) can receive roster relief from the league if the club officially shelves the two players, who have not seen a minute of action.

“Putting somebody on the season-ending injury list is not an easy thing,” United coach Peter Nowak said. “We still believe at some point that they are going to be important for us and they are going to come back.”

Quintanilla had his right leg re-broken and a screw implanted to help heal a broken fibula. Martins suffered a torn meniscus in the same left knee on which he had ACL reconstructive surgery during the offseason.

Nowak does have a case for not ending the players’ seasons. With less than $100,000 in estimated salary cap room, United can’t afford an impact player.

United needs a target forward, depth in the back, a playmaking midfielder and a bona fide finisher, but the team’s salary situation indicates it can acquire only one of them.

The club opened the season with 17 players, one under the league maximum. Injuries to Martins, Quintanilla, Nelsen and forward Santino Quaranta (abdominal) have reduced the active roster to 13. The team is especially short-handed now with midfielders Bobby Convey and Earnie Stewart away on U.S. World Cup qualifying duty.

Project-40 and developmental players Freddy Adu, rookie Joshua Gros, forward Alecko Eskandarian, rookie midfielder Kevin Ara, midfielder Brian Carroll, rookie goalkeeper Troy Perkins and defender David Stokes are available but have little experience. Adu, Gros, Carroll and Perkins probably will start tonight against the Crew, leaving Stokes, Eskandarian, Ara and defender Bryan Namoff or Brandon Prideaux as reserves.

“The players understand it — the situation is like that,” Nowak said. “It’s not like we have 18 healthy bodies. We just have players who have to step up right now.”

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