- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 31, 2002

As Marco Etcheverry goes, so does D.C. United.
Make no mistake about it, United is only as good as its playmaking captain. The "El Diablo" of old who helped United win three Major League Soccer championships during the club's glory years returned to East Capitol Street yesterday and some disgruntled United fans think it has been two years overdue.
Etcheverry scored his first goal in nearly two years, and maligned forward Abdul Thompson Conteh added another as United won its MLS home opener with a 2-0 victory over the Chicago Fire before 15,033 at RFK Stadium.
Despite being just the second game of the season, this one became a must-win for United with two road games looming this week. The victory put United (1-1-0) into a four-way tie for first place in the Eastern Conference.
United coach Ray Hudson praised his four-man backline of Ivan McKinley, Brandon Prideaux, Eddie Pope and Milton Reyes for the shutout but saved his best comments for United's undisputed leader.
"The old devil magic was shining again," Hudson said of Etcheverry's performance. "A world-class goal. That's the price of admission right there. You can't ask for anything more than that. That's $15 right there, that goal."
Etcheverry's free-kick goal in the 39th minute was spectacular, but United midfielder Jose Alegria drew a foul in ideal territory that set it up.
Alegria, running with the ball directly at goal, was taken down from behind by Fire midfielder Dema Kovalenko just outside the semicircle. From 22 yards out and straight in front of the goal, Etcheverry broke a scoreless game when he expertly curled his free kick over the Fire wall and inside the right post.
It's been a long time since Etcheverry, 31, has scored a goal. Etcheverry's last goal came against the Fire on June 17, 2000, in Chicago. Last season Etcheverry registered 12 assists but did not score.
United's Bolivian midfielder played through a painful toe injury all of last season. On Oct. 5, Etcheverry underwent toe surgery. He has said he is healthy and his old self is back.
"Last year I couldn't take those free kicks because I was afraid of the pain in my toe," Etcheverry said. "Now I'm feeling much better. Yesterday John [Trask, United assistant coach] came to me and told me to practice my free kicks. I did the same thing today as I did yesterday."
While Etcheverry's goal was magic, Conteh's goal showed why he led the club last season with 14. Displaying the skills of a classic center-forward, Conteh got his first goal of the season during injury time at the end of the first half. It was a backbreaker for the Fire (1-1-0).
With his back to the Fire's goal, Conteh took Reyes' cross from outside the 18-yard box on the right wing and did a 180-degree turn on helpless defender Evan Whitfield, who also had Fire captain Peter Nowak helping out on the right. Conteh spun left and with his left foot slotted the ball into the goal's left corner from 12 yards out.
For Conteh, this goal was redemption. Many were calling for 22-year-old newcomer Ali Curtis to start for Conteh, who had been ineffective until today. Hudson stood by his man and his 31-year-old striker delivered.
"That never bothered me," Conteh said of people calling for Curtis to start. "I played in San Jose and I led the team in scoring. Last season I scored a lot of goals. It never fazed me. Everywhere I've played, I always know that I'm going to score."


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