- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 17, 2002

In these days of desperation, D.C. United coach Ray Hudson is hoping for a touch of magic from the "fellowship of the rings." Dream on, Ray.

Hudson gathered his so called "ring bearers" players who wear a championship ring from the club's glory days for a private huddle before last week's game. The cream of United's rich history were there: Marco Etcheverry, Jaime Moreno, Eddie Pope, Richie Williams, Ben Olsen and Roy Lassiter.

These were the players that helped United become the flagship team of Major League Soccer and win three championships, plus numerous other titles, from 1996 through 1999. Now more than ever, Hudson needed them to shine.

"The ring bearers have had another tough year," said Hudson. "But I don't lay the blame squarely on them. That's why we had the meeting Friday: 'Can you guys lead us? Have you got it in you to lead us?' And pull the team behind them."

Alas, the glow on those rings has faded, along with the skill, swagger and luck that United once boasted. The big players at the club, the ones that hog the salary budget, are falling far short.

United could only hold the visiting Kansas City Wizards to a scoreless tie at RFK Stadium, and Hudson's key players Moreno and Etcheverry failed to make an impact. Then Williams had to be restrained by Hudson as he ran at the referee at the close of the game. Now, what kind of example is that? At least Ben Olsen, coming back from injury, is trying.

While Hudson is looking for his "ring bearers" to produce, it's the new boys on the club Ryan Nelsen, Milton Reyes, Nick Rimando and Brian Prideaux whose heads are still up when the final whistle blows.

Now Hudson is pleading with his decorated veterans to dig deep as the club goes up against the league's top team, the San Jose Earthquakes (12-7-2), on the road today.

United (6-11-4) hasn't won a game in eight tries and has failed to score in five matches. A playoff berth now looks unlikely.

"We can't finish," Hudson said. "We are as dangerous as Tweety Bird in the box."

With its draw against the Wizards, United moved into the record books with the longest single-season scoreless streak for a team. The club's scoreless stretch of 531 minutes surpassed the previous record of 437 by the Miami Fusion in 2000.

Getting a goal against San Jose won't be easy. The Earthquakes field the best defense in the league, giving up just 20 goals in 21 games. Surprisingly, United is tied for the second-best defense in the league, allowing 27 goals, but defenses don't win games goals do.

Moreno, the club's main scorer for the past six seasons, has scored three goals this season. Bothered by a hamstring and the loss of striking partner Santino Quaranta to injury, Moreno is having difficulty developing a chemistry with the team's new forward, Eliseo Quintanilla.

Hudson lists all the "valid excuses" for Moreno's slump, but concedes, "There has to be something else." He was hoping that the game against Kansas City would be a "statement game" for his main striker, but instead it turned into a nightmare. Moreno blew a penalty kick and was substituted.

For Hudson, who saw goals come easy as coach of the Miami Fusion last year, the United goal drought is baffling.

Said Hudson: "I went from the highest scoring team in MLS history, or close to it, last year with the two top strikers, to as far opposite you could go on the scale. In Miami we could take days off at the beach because it was automatic football."

United midfielder Petter Villages will miss today's game due to a family emergency in Ecuador, while Richie Williams has to sit out because of an accumulation of caution points.

Premier League starts The English Premier League kicks off today with Manchester United hosting newly promoted West Bromwich Albion and title holder Arsenal at home to newcomer Birmingham.

America's World Cup captain, Claudio Reyna, will miss today's opening game against Blackburn, which starts American goalie Brad Friedel, because of a groin injury. Meanwhile, U.S. midfielder Jovan Kirovski has won his appeal for a work permit and has joined Birmingham from Crystal Palace.

U.S. team notes In an article on overpriced players, Britain's Daily Star reports that U.S. striker Joe Max-Moore earns $768,000 a year at Everton and American midfielder Eddie Lewis $384,000 at Fulham. The top salary in MLS is $270,000.

WUSA note The average crowd for the Women's United Soccer League this season was 6,957. The Washington Freedom had the highest home attendance with 9,297. In the league's inaugural season last year, the WUSA drew an average 8,104, and the Freedom led the league with a gate of 14,421.

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