- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 30, 2002

What better way for Major League Soccer to return to RFK Stadium for its seventh season today than with a tantalizing clash between old foes D.C. United and the Chicago Fire.

These two teams don't like each other and based on past encounters you can expect at least two goals and plenty of attacking soccer.

The rivalry has been intense since the expansion Fire, under former United assistant coach Bob Bradley, upset two-time champion United in the 1998 MLS Cup. Relying heavily on aging Eastern European talent, the Fire downed a stylish and Latin-spiced United team. That has been a sore memory for United ever since.

Chicago is likely to field six veterans today from the 1998 final: Zach Thornton, Chris Armas, C.J. Brown, Jesse Marsch, Peter Nowak and Ante Rasov. United will have three remaining from that game: Marco Etcheverry, Richie Williams and Eddie Pope.

Last year at RFK, the Fire scored two goals in three minutes to overcome United's one-goal lead. The year before here, United thrashed the Fire 3-1 with two injury-time goals. Since then United hasn't beaten the Fire in three games.

This season Chicago once again boasts a creative offensive lineup with Josh Wolff, Rasov and DaMarcus Beasley, all in the national team player pool with an outside chance of making the U.S. World Cup roster.

"When you have players doing the tango up front, it's the cocktail of a cracking team, which the Chicago Fire has ahead of us right now," United coach Ray Hudson said. "They have diamonds in their attack."

To bolster United's firepower today, expensive new defender Milton Reyes will take on an attacking midfield role to fill in for the red-carded Bobby Convey. Said Hudson: "We are encouraging him to be brave and adventuresome."

It will be interesting to see how Etcheverry, the club's aging marquee star, and Reyes, United's new star, work together in the middle of the field.

"He [Reyes] is not expected to be the quarterback or the savior of this team," said Hudson, hinting that Etcheverry will still run the show.

So what did we glean from D.C. United's first game of the season, a 2-1 loss to the Los Angeles Galaxy?

First, it's great to see the stabilizing presence of Williams back in the midfield. Williams works nonstop and gets plenty of touches on the ball. Last week he positioned himself well to save a certain goal off the goal line.

The jury is still out on Etcheverry, who has obviously lost a step or two in recent years. Etcheverry is still the most technically skilled player on the field, but must the ball always go through him on every attack?

MLS roundup I'm still shaking my head over the small crowd that turned up for the New York/New Jersey MetroStars' home opener. Only 13,234 came to see the MetroStars down the New England Revolution 3-1 at Giants Stadium, but it was a cold day. The MetroStars are in discussions to build a 27,000-seat stadium in Harrison, N.J.

And what about the Columbus Crew? The Crew, with a lineup including U.S. team players Brian West, Jeff Cunningham and Brian McBride, failed to get one shot on goal against visiting Chicago before a home crowd of 18,450. In midweek, the Crew did get their act together, defeating the MetroStars 1-0 on Cunningham's goal.

According to MLS statistics, 41 players remain from the first MLS season in 1996. Fourteen players, including Etcheverry, Cobi Jones (Los Angeles) and McBride (Columbus) are with the same club.

Sad note It was sad to hear this week that former Olympic coach Clive Charles, 50, was battling colon cancer. Charles, who coaches the men's and women's teams at Portland State, will begin chemotherapy next week. He underwent therapy last year with success, but the cancer has returned in the form of tumors on his shoulders and hip.

U.S. team Even though the U.S. was drubbed 4-2 in Germany this week, there were some positive signs. Clint Mathis booked his place to the World Cup with two goals. Not many players score twice against the three-time world champions on German soil. You can bet that Mathis' name has been jotted down by quite a few coaches in Europe.

All three of America's World Cup opponents in June also had tough weeks. Portugal lost to Finland 4-2 at home, Poland lost to Japan 2-0 at home and South Korea was held to a scoreless tie at Turkey.

International roundup Yankees Entertainment & Sports Network (YES) signed a contract with the world's biggest soccer club, England's Manchester United, to show 20 taped telecasts of its games, starting with the April 20 Premier League match at Chelsea.

England's World Cup players, including United's David Beckham, will earn $285,000 each if they get through the "Group of Death" and reach the knockout stages.

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