- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 28, 2001

There's no doubt that D.C. United has good players and potentially great ones. There's no doubt that coach Thomas Rongen knows the game and boasts a decent pedigree. There's no doubt that United still plays some of the most attractive soccer in the league and draws the biggest crowds.
Then why, for heaven's sake, is the three-time Major League Soccer champion the second-worst team in the league? And why, with just nine games left in the season, is United (6-12-1) struggling to get into the playoff picture?
The veteran, the rookie, the general manager and the coach all agree: It's a mental thing. So where's a good shrink when you need one? Does anyone have Tony Robbins' number?
"Once you get rolling in the wrong direction, it's just so hard to turn it around," said veteran defender Eddie Pope, who has been a beacon of light in United's shoddy defense this season. "We don't get any breaks, [surrendering a goal on] the ball that gets shot, bounces off three people and goes in. I guess that's part of soccer, but when it happens over and over again … then you really do make mistakes."
General manager Kevin Payne thinks the youngsters on the team have had difficulty dealing with the losses.
"When we have a team this young, it might be harder for them," Payne said. "They don't necessarily brood about it, but I think they lose confidence where a veteran team might know how to get it out of their system."
Rookie midfielder Mark Lisi sees things differently.
"I don't think it's inexperience," Lisi said. "We've been together now four or five months, and if we can't play together now, I don't know if we will be able in the long run.
"There's a mentality at the moment that 'we're done, our season's over,' and you don't want to hear that, especially from veteran players," the 23-year-old midfielder said. "I still have hope, and I haven't given up."
Rongen, after reeling off a list of what ails United, comes back to the players' attitudes.
"What we need now is a winner's mentality, a winner's attitude, which you can't teach," the coach said. "It's not so much having an attitude of wanting to win but refusing to lose."
United's players dominated the voting for today's MLS All-Star Game in San Jose, which is a tribute, Rongen said, to the "good football we play."
"I'm still trying to balance that act of playing good football and winning," Rongen said.
Give Rongen credit. He says he refuses to play for the bottom line, which, of course, is winning at all costs, because "I refuse to sacrifice my own philosophy and this club's philosophy … of playing good intelligent football."
Which begs the question: Aren't wins more important than fancy soccer right now?
If there is a glimmer of hope for United, it may come from the sudden resurgence of playmaker Marco Etcheverry's leadership and form. Rongen was delighted to see his team captain who now leads MLS with 11 assists make a long defensive run and slide tackle the ball from an opponent making a dangerous counterattack in the dying minutes of United's U.S. Cup victory at RFK Stadium on Tuesday night.
"That speaks volumes," Rongen said. "Let's face it: This is not Thomas Rongen's franchise. This is not Kevin Payne's or [former coach] Bruce Arena's. There are three names that come to mind. And I don't want to diminish [Jeff] Agoos, Richie Williams and Carlos [Llamosa] and all the guys that contributed to the championship teams. But it really is Marco's, Eddie's and [Jamie Moreno's] team. They can take us far, but they need the supporting cast that is willing to provide the help and willing to battle with them. If we can do that, we can get into the [MLS] playoffs, win the U.S. Open Cup and do well in the Giants Cup. Not many teams can say they are still in three potential races."
Rongen and United may be down, but they are certainly not out.
All-star record United forward Santino Quaranta will be the youngest player to compete in a professional major league all-star game when he suits up for the East in the MLS affair today in San Jose. The 16-year-old Baltimore native beat out Steve Yzerman of the Detroit Red Wings, who was 18 when he played in the NHL's 1984 game… . United striker Jaime Moreno has played in the last four MLS All-Star Games but missed out in this year's voting.
Freedom woes It's clear that Mia Hamm's partnership with Brazilian forward Pretinha is just not working on the Washington Freedom's frontline. Hamm was in a class of her own in the Freedom's loss to Philadelphia on Thursday night at RFK Stadium, setting up chance after chance for Pretinha to no avail. The Brazilian has not scored in nine games.
Copa America Colombia will face a resurgent Mexico team in the championship game of Copa America tomorrow in Bogota. Mexico (4-0-1) defeated Uruguay 2-1 to reach the final while Colombia (5-0), which hasn't given up a goal in the tournament, beat Honduras 2-0.
World roundup Nigeria (4-2-1, 13 points) can overtake Liberia (5-3-0, 15) and capture a World Cup berth if it wins at home tomorrow against Ghana. A tie would give the spot to Liberia… . Germany's soccer federation announced this week that Germany will play an exhibition game against the U.S. team March 27 at a site to be determined. Germany is 3-2 against the Americans.

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