- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 27, 2002

D.C. United rolls into Columbus Crew Stadium today ready to take on a team that is more desperate than it is.

Well, maybe.

While United (2-3) is looking for its first road victory of the season, the struggling Crew (1-3) have not won at home in three tries. That's the last thing United needs to know, with only two forwards available for tonight's match.

Reserve Ali Curtis, who will make his first start of the season, and 17-year-old Santino Quaranta will have to suffice. Normal starter Abdul Thompson Conteh is in his native Sierra Leone attending to a personal matter and star Jaime Moreno, who made his season debut last Saturday, did not travel after re-injuring himself Wednesday at practice.

"We've been aware of it right from day one," United coach Ray Hudson said of his predicament at forward. "That's why we've had forwards coming in through a revolving door looking for that one."

Hudson has been holding open auditions lately for a legitimate goal scorer. Only Scottish forward Paul Dalglish, the son of Liverpool legend Kenny Dalglish, has made any sort of an impression. He currently plays for Wigan Athletic of the English Second Division and would have to take a considerable pay cut to play in Major League Soccer.

Plus, United would have to make a couple of roster moves to fit Dalglish under the league's stringent $1.7million salary cap. Given tonight's situation United will have no forwards on its bench the club undoubtedly will expedite the search process.

It remains puzzling why United signed rookie forward Dennis Ludwig to a developmental contract and assigned him to its Division III affiliate, the Carolina Dynamo, rather than having him available for a situation like tonight's.

If the game calls for it, Hudson said he may slide left-flank midfielder Bobby Convey or playmaker Marco Etcheverry into a withdrawn forward role to help out on top. Another possibility is for midfielder Mark Lisi, who is on the trading block, to come off the bench and take the withdrawn forward role.

"We've got to improvise," Hudson said. "We might be able to push Marco on top as a player playing off a forward; he's capable of doing that [because] he holds the ball so well. We did it with Preki last year in Miami, and it was very successful. Bobby can play up there. Bobby is a good free mover, shoots the ball well and holds it nicely. They are just not dyed-in-the-wool forwards."

Duke product Curtis is tied for fourth in the league in points two goals and one assist and has done it coming off United's bench in just 168 minutes of action. Hudson said Curtis, the second-overall pick in last year's MLS SuperDraft, would have started tonight's game even if Conteh were available.

"I wasn't expecting to start," said Curtis, who is United's leading goal scorer. "To be very frank, I'm really not worried about whether I'm coming off the bench or whether I'm starting. As a striker and as a player, you always want to have more minutes, so it's great to get this start and I'm really looking forward to it."

The game marks Eddie Pope's last for United until after the World Cup in June. Pope, who will report to U.S. team training camp in Cary, N.C., following tonight's game, may man-mark Crew forward and fellow national teamer Brian McBride. The United star said he is not worried about getting hurt in an MLS game practically on the eve of the world's biggest sporting event.

"It's every soccer player's dream to play in the World Cup," Pope said. "If you go out and try to not get hurt and try to not get in the way, that's when you get hurt. If it happens, then it happens and it was meant to be."

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