- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 4, 2002

For D.C. United, potential is not showing up in the statistics.

United continues to be committed to a youth movement, coming off two straight losing seasons with a third already in the works. But its hyped "prodigies" just aren't producing.

United coach Ray Hudson, faced with a severe manpower shortage tonight against the Chicago Fire (2-2-1) at RFK Stadium, will give those younger players a stage to prove they belong in Major League Soccer.

Midfielder Marco Etcheverry, defender Ivan McKinley and defender Eddie Pope are unavailable for D.C. United (2-4), giving second-year players Mark Lisi, Jose "Chino" Alegria and Ryan Nelsen starts against the Fire.

Lisi, Alegria and Nelsen have made 46 combined starts in their careers, while Etcheverry, McKinley and Pope have amassed 418 starts.

"This is a game for the young Turks," Hudson said. "Alright, the stage is set, the lights are on, it's time to dance. Let's see it."

Midfielder Bobby Convey, who two years ago was the youngest player to sign with MLS, has not lived up to his billing. Convey has one goal and 10 assists to show for 39 games, including one assist in five games so far this season.

Convey, 18, has dominated U.S. under-20 play but hasn't distinguished himself yet at the club level. United's starting left-flank midfielder says there are vaild reasons he hasn't posted huge numbers.

"Last year, I played what, 12 games? So it doesn't really count," said Convey, who missed half the season after undergoing abdominal surgery for a hernia. "The year before that was my first year. This year I've only played five games. The first game I played 30 minutes, then I didn't play the next game. For me, I just need to get forward more. The last two games I've had to play more of a defensive role for the team with [United right back Milton Reyes] going forward. If you want to go by stats, then, all right I stink, whatever. I just have to play defense now. I can't just run all over the place."

Santino Quaranta, United's 17-year-old striker, has one goal and one assist on the season. He's another player his teammates would like to see more from.

"They're both talented players, and they both have shown flashes of being good going forward and getting in good scoring positions and being able to do that, but the end result hasn't been there, where there should be some more goals and some more assists," said United holding midfielder Richie Williams, 31. "We need them to do that for us to be successful because they are attacking players."

All the blame can't be dumped on the teen-agers. Forward Abdul Thompson Conteh, 31, has scored one goal and hasn't been dangerous. Etcheverry's play has been inconsistent. Injuries to stars Jaime Moreno (knee) and midfielder Ben Olsen (ankle) have kept United's two best attacking players sidelined.

The good news tonight is Hudson may start Moreno alongside Quaranta. Moreno, who has played three minutes this season, probably will play the first half.

"I can't wait. His organization and just playing with somebody that I'm comfortable with," Quaranta said. "He'll direct me and tell me what I have to do. I work for him, and he works for me."

Up to now, defenses have been able to man-mark Quaranta and not worry about United's other striker. With Moreno back in the lineup, that strategy will change.

Convey and Quaranta are the future for United and American soccer. Both players left high school early and turned professional. They probably will play in the glamorous big-money European leagues in the future, but for now United desperately needs them to elevate their games.

"There's a lot of pressure on both of us," Quaranta said. "When we're scoring a lot of goals, everybody loves us, and when were not, it's our fault."

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