- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 30, 2001

After tonight, D.C. United's Kiwi takes flight.

Ryan Nelsen, United's promising rookie defensive midfielder, will miss United's next five matches to play for New Zealand during World Cup qualifying and won't return to the club until late June.

Nelsen will leave United (3-4) after tonight's game against the first-place Miami Fusion (7-1-1) at Lockhart Stadium in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

Nelsen, who has started every game this season, is an integral part of United's defensive third of the field. United is already thin in the back; veteran central defender Mark Watson is with the Canadian national team at FIFA's Confederations Cup, which starts today and ends June 10 in South Korea and Japan.

If Canada advances to the second round of the Confederations Cup, Watson would miss United's next four matches. Watson would miss two matches if Canada is eliminated early. On June 10, Eddie Pope will leave for the U.S. national team camp in preparation for the upcoming World Cup qualifier at Jamaica. However, Watson should be back before Pope leaves, so the club should have a smooth transition at central defender.

"We're dealing with the situation as it comes," United coach Thomas Rongen said. "We've got various options."

Rongen already has experimented filling Nelsen's shoes. In United's international exhibition last Wednesday against German club Bayer Leverkusen, Rongen inserted Carey Talley at Nelsen's midfield position and moved Nelsen to right back, where he starts on New Zealand's national team.

At the University of North Carolina, Talley, 24, played defensive midfielder, the position at which he is most comfortable. U.S. national team coach Bruce Arena, the former United coach, converted Talley from a midfielder to a defender in 1998. Arena used Talley centrally as well as at wingback.

Tonight, Rongen will keep Nelsen at defensive midfield. Talley will play on the right, Eddie Pope in the middle and Eric Denton on the left in United's 3-5-2 alignment.

Scoring goals will be United's biggest problem tonight. The Fusion boast Major League Soccer's best defense and goalkeeper Nick Rimando, the MLS' reigning player of the week who has a league-best 0.55 goals-against average and five shutouts.

The Fusion haven't given up a goal in the last 244 minutes and have allowed just one in their past five games. The Fusion have allowed five goals all season.

"Our defense is playing really well right now," Rimando said yesterday on a conference call. "We're clicking, we're on a roll and we're all on the same page. [United] is a different team now. They're really young. However, they have a lot of great players like Marco Etcheverry and Jaime Moreno who are very dangerous and very skillful.

Said Rongen: "They haven't necessarily been tested by an attack as powerful and potent as ours is."

One reason why the Fusion's defense has improved is the addition of Carlos Llamosa, a U.S. national team and former United defender. United traded Llamosa to the Fusion for versatile midfielder/ defender Brian Kamler and the fourth-overall pick in February's MLS SuperDraft, which United used to select Nelsen.

"It will be exciting to see Carlos again," Pope said. "It was a huge loss for us and me personally."

Notes United will collect new toys before Saturday's match against the Chicago Fire to benefit the Children's National Medical Center. Collection points will be set up at gates A and F and RFK Stadium's main gate. Each fan that donates a toy will receive an autographed Marco Etcheverry player card… .

Midfielder Bobby Convey, who celebrated his 18th birthday Sunday, will be featured on ESPN's "The Life", a program that profiles the lifestyles of professional athletes. The show will air Saturday… .

United will host its annual "Meet the Team Day" for its full- and half-season ticket holders Sunday. United plan holders should enter through the glass doors at gate A from 1:30 until 3:30 p.m. Club seat holders may come early, beginning at 1 p.m.


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