- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 5, 2009

I’ve seen a number of D.C. United teams over the years, and I’m trying to put my finger on why this squad doesn’t have me jumping out of my seat.

Wait, I have been jumping out of my seat - but for all the wrong reasons.

Goalie Josh Wicks gets into a scuffle on the field with a teammate, then stomps on one of the league’s most prized assets - Seattle’s Fredy Montero - in a U.S. Open Cup loss Wednesday night. Oh, dear.

Don’t get me wrong; this is a good team with decent players, but something is missing.

At first glance, it appears United is lacking a dynamic offense. But the team has 35 goals, tied for the most with Colorado and Salt Lake. So what gives? Well, United’s back line has leaked almost as many goals as the team has scored.

That said, after consecutive shutouts in MLS play, United coach Tom Soehn appears to have fixed his back line, and the introduction of newcomer Julius James as a central defender in a four-man defense looks promising. So now it’s back to the offense to do its job.

It’s often said that United striker Luciano Emilio scores goals in bunches. At the moment he’s going through a dry patch, so hopefully goals are due. Twenty goals was impressive in 2007, and 11 strikes last year was passable. This year the Brazilian has just eight.

United continues to play its attractive brand of soccer, but are opposing teams figuring out its game plan? Cede possession to United in the midfield, tire the players out and then catch them on the counterattack or capitalize on a mistake.

Keeping possession is all well and good, but it’s all for nothing if you don’t execute in the final third. Too many passes in the midfield gives the opponent time to organize. It’s clear United needs to make a quicker transition from defense to offense.

There’s no need to panic. The standings are extremely tight, making for an exciting two months as the playoffs near. It seems parity reigns in MLS.

United is a good team, but there are many good teams out there. It’s not enough just to be a good team. For a club to break away from the pack, it needs something special, a player who can change a game. The Los Angeles Galaxy have Landon Donovan. Columbus has Guillermo Barros Schelotto. Seattle has Montero. Which United player will be the game-changer in this crucial final stretch?

Soehn said he has his core team and is poised to take advantage of five upcoming home games. His defense finally is looking better. Dejan Jakovic is a gem, and Bryan Namoff is having a great season.

In the midfield, Fred has been a disappointment, while Christian Gomez and Jaime Moreno no longer have the legs for 90-minute games. Rookies Chris Pontius and Rodney Wallace impressed early on but are feeling the impact of the long pro season.

Forward Santino Quaranta has the passion and potential to be a game-changer. Is this his moment?

And finally, there is a lot riding on midfielder Ben Olsen’s shoulders. Olsen is the heart of this club and takes every loss personally. It may be too much to ask the veteran, who’s running on dodgy ankles, to do more, but his rallying call is what this club needs right now.

United’s locker room has not been harmonious throughout the summer, and there have been many distractions, but the team needs to put all that behind and get a win at FC Dallas on Saturday. The players owe it to the fans who kept waving their banners even while their team went down in defeat at RFK on Wednesday night.

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