- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 31, 2002

D.C. United's season is not quite dead, but many fans are already demanding an autopsy.

United's hopes of making the playoffs are slim to say the least. The club trails the New York/New Jersey MetroStars by nine points for the final playoff spot with five games left. Miracles do happen in soccer, but for United the fat lady is approaching the microphone.

Today, the club takes on the defending Major League Soccer champion San Jose Earthquakes at RFK Stadium. United coach Ray Hudson has promised that his players will face their fate "with guns blazing."

While there's plenty to mope about over United's form, this could be a game to savor before the long knives come out. World Cup star Landon Donovan will be on the field for San Jose, and United's new signee, Colombian forward Henry Zambrano, is expected to see some playing time.

Hudson is not blameless for this year's debacle, but he does deserve another shot, a chance to prove that what he did with the now-defunct Miami Fusion last season was no fluke.

When he came to Washington in January, Hudson inherited a team suffering from injuries and low morale after missing the playoffs two years in a row. He had little money to attract new talent because nearly half of the $1.7million United is allowed under the salary cap was eaten up by three players: Marco Etcheverry, Jaime Moreno and Eddie Pope. And Hudson, who tends to work better with seasoned veterans, was surrounded by a number of untested youngsters.

"When your big players are not hitting on all their cylinders, it dilutes your talent pool," Hudson said.

There will be changes, but fans should not expect a major upheaval in the offseason. According to Hudson, the "belly of the team" will remain, but there will be some "delicate" and "subtle" moves. He says he wants to find one or two players to compliment the talent already on the club.

"You can't stick with a formula that hasn't worked for three years," Hudson said. "We've tinkered with it. I've tried to conjure up things. I don't think anybody else given the cards I was given could have done any better."

It's obvious that some players will have to choose between taking a pay cut or moving on. Hudson said United is the only club in MLS with three players earning the league's top salary of $275,000.

"The big-green eyed monster in all this is the salary cap," Hudson said.

Hudson admits that he didn't follow his instincts on a couple of trades this season and says he has learned some valuable lessons.

At the end of the season the club will take a look at some overseas talent. Hudson said veteran French forward David Ginola is still on the club's radar screen, as well as a Honduran striker and a veteran Premier League forward who he chose not to name.

Ginola, 35, is currently without a club after being dumped by Everton last season and recently turned down by Portsmouth.

It's been a lonely job at times for Hudson, who had no choice but to leave his beloved Florida when the Fusion folded.

"It's been pretty desperate," Hudson said. "You miss your support system and your old friends."

Game notes Only United has a worse record (0-9-3) on the road than San Jose (2-8-2). United was the only team so far this year to steal points from San Jose at home when the clubs tied 2-2 two weeks ago. Reserve goalie Jon Conway will be making only his second start of the season for the Quakes because Joe Cannon is suspended.

Arena update The U.S. Soccer Federation continues its talks with U.S. coach Bruce Arena about renewing his contract, which runs out in December. Rumor has it that Arena has been offered $750,000 by the USSF. The Virginia-based coach earned an estimated $500,000 salary last year. Newly re-elected USSF President S. Robert Contiguglia said this week that "negotiations are underway and are confidential."

Arena declined to comment when asked whether he had been approached with offers from other teams after his stunning success at the World Cup, where he led the American team to the final eight.

Sven Goran Eriksson, the coach of England (considered the second most important job in the nation) earns $3million a year, while Scottish coach Bert Vogts earns $800,000.

Gazza update Paul Gascoigne, who nearly signed with D.C. United, was spotted this week leaving a London airport for Moscow. American winger Eddie Lewis finally signed a three-year deal with Preston North End yesterday and said goodbye to Premier League club Fulham for life in the First Division. Lewis can't play for his new club until his work permit is renewed.

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