- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 21, 2001

D.C. United coach Thomas Rongen is counting on Wednesday's 4-0 road loss to the San Jose Earthquakes to awaken his young team. With 10 games remaining, United is four points out of eighth place for the final playoff spot in Major League Soccer's postseason.

"Sometimes it's better to get your butts kicked," Rongen said. "A 4-0 result might inspire our team. Anytime you have a result like that, you don't feel good about it."

Certainly not this late in the season. Rongen is in the final year of a contract that pays him an estimated $250,000 annually. His future with United probably will be determined by whether the team makes the MLS playoffs and how far it advances in the U.S. Open Cup.

Right now, United is looking good in the Cup, the nation's oldest domestic soccer competition. United will play a very winnable match against the A-League's Richmond Kickers in the quarterfinals Tuesday at RFK Stadium. Should United beat the Kickers, its A-league affiliate, it would play the Columbus Crew or the New England Revolution in the semifinals.

Meanwhile, Rongen is calling today's nationally televised MLS game against the New York/New Jersey MetroStars (8-7-3, 27 points) at Giants Stadium a "must-win" for his struggling team. It's the final match of a three-game road trip for United (6-11-1, 19 points).

"There's no doubt that we are in a must-win situation," Rongen said. "We need to put a winning streak together. We play [the MetroStars] twice [more] and can create a six-point swing. We still can create our own destiny."

United desperately needs the three points it would get for winning today if it is to stay in the playoff hunt, and the return of All-Star playmaker Marco Etcheverry should help.

Etcheverry has a torn ligament in his left big toe, and Rongen opted to rest his star Wednesday against the Earthquakes. Rookie Mark Lisi started in Etcheverry's place but was not able to create the same chances.

"We don't have the luxury now of resting any of our better players," Rongen said.

In two meetings with the MetroStars, United has performed fairly well. D.C. lost 3-2 on May 5 at Giants Stadium when the MetroStars scored three goals in the final 10 minutes. United evened the series June 13 with a 2-1 victory at RFK.

Rongen said he plans to start Mike Ammann in goal although Mark Simpson started United's last three matches and went 2-1, a including a 3-0 victory against the A-league's Hershey Wildcats in the U.S. Open Cup. The coach said any other moves would be a game time decision.

"If you look at the games against New York, we put together two complete games," Rongen said. "If we can get six points out of a possible nine, that means we had a successful road trip."

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