- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 23, 2002

Three years ago, D.C. United was the team to beat in Major League Soccer the flagship of a struggling league trying to corner a modicum of international respect.
United did its part, winning three MLS Cups and two prestigious international competitions (the 1998 CONCACAF Champions Cup and 1999 Interamerican Cup). But now just five players remain from United's 1999 MLS champions, and one of those midfielder Richie Williams was only reacquired Feb.10 in a draft day trade with the New York/New Jersey MetroStars.
And tonight, as it begins its seventh MLS season against the Los Angeles Galaxy in the Rose Bowl, United is not considered a serious threat to challenge for a championship.
"I think it's fine there's no pressure on us," star defender Eddie Pope said. "We'll just go work hard and see how the season goes."
Two consecutive last-place finishes in the Eastern Division brought the ouster of coach Thomas Rongen. Enter colorful and charismatic Ray Hudson. MLS' offseason contraction of two clubs the Miami Fusion and Tampa Bay Mutiny dropped Hudson on United's doorstep.
Hudson, who led the Fusion to MLS' best record (16-5-5, 53 points) last season, said he feels pressure to return United to its storied status in his first season.
"It comes with the biggest club job in [American] soccer," Hudson said. "I absolutely feel the pressure. I don't have a magic potion, especially given the salary cap situation. I feel the burden of responsibility of turning this ship around."
For the early part of the season, Hudson may have a hard time getting his ship out of drydock. Injuries to star forward Jaime Moreno (knee) and midfielder Ben Olsen (ankle) will force Hudson to alter his lineup for at least a month.
The most frustrating thing concerning United's injury situation is there is really nothing the club can do about it. Add goalkeeper Mike Ammann, who most likely will miss this season following elbow surgery, and United has nearly $450,000 of the league's stringent $1.7million salary cap on the sideline.
"It's tragic," Hudson said. "We'll have to make do with what we have."
MLS delivered United some long-awaited relief when the league signed Honduran national team defender Milton Reyes last week. The 27-year-old Reyes plays both right back and right-flank midfield and gives United an attacking presence on that side.
With Ammann out, Hudson's first order of business was to add a proven goalkeeper. With the third pick of the dispersal draft, Hudson selected Nick Rimando, his everyday keeper with the Fusion. Rimando, 22, is considered a rising star and is currently just outside the U.S. national team's player pool.
"Every successful team has a good goalkeeper," Rimando said. "To say that I'm going to carry this team on my back is not something I want to put on my shoulders, but I'm going to have a good season, and our defenders are going to have to have a good season."
United's strength lies in its defensive third. Reyes, Pope, Ryan Nelsen, and newcomers Brandon Prideaux and Ivan McKinley provide a solid foundation in the back, along with holding midfielder Williams.
Hudson's two biggest concerns are up top and in the middle. With Moreno out indefinitely, forwards Abdul Thompson Conteh, who scored 14 goals last season, and 17-year-old Santino Quaranta must finish off their chances for United to be successful early.
Hudson would like to see star Marco Etcheverry take more charge in his playmaking role. Etcheverry, who was plagued by a toe problem all last season, is coming off his worst year in MLS with just 12 points all assists in 23 matches.
If Etcheverry doesn't show his 1998 MLS most valuable player form, Hudson may shift quick midfielder Bobby Convey inside off the left wing to help Etcheverry inside.
"It will come down to the usual suspects [Etcheverry, Pope, Moreno, Convey and Olsen] bringing home the bacon," Hudson said. "We play the role of underdog well. It gives us a good sense of camaraderie built in. It's us against the world."

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