- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 26, 2003

After last week's sluggish and scoreless tie with the Chicago Fire in which D.C. United created few scoring chances, coach Ray Hudson is calling on his most experienced players to put the ball in the back of the net.

Earnie Stewart will move to forward and Hristo Stoitchkov could start tonight in Colorado after serving a two-game suspension for breaking an American University player's leg in a preseason scrimmage. Playmaker Marco Etcheverry will play a more withdrawn forward role.

Last week against the Fire, Hudson started 18-year-old Santino Quaranta and 20-year-old Eliseo Quintanilla at forward. United's young strike force was easily controlled by the Fire's four-man back line.

Tonight at Invesco Field at Mile High, United (0-1-1) will be seeking its first win of the season when it plays the Rapids (0-1-0) and the team is counting on its veterans to deliver victory.

"The forwards had a tough time of it, no question," Hudson said. "Eliseo and Santino just didn't seem to have the weight of the creativity to penetrate [the Fire]. "You're [criticized] sometimes when you bring a young team together like this. [Quaranta and Quintanilla] need the experience, but if it doesn't produce, you made them look like a learning team."

Nobody needs to remind Hudson why United finished last in MLS a year ago: Scoring was the problem, especially on the road. In 14 road games, United had just six goals, finished a league-worst 1-10-3 and was shut out nine times.

Hudson cannot afford to wait for United's young forwards to develop. Without question, Stewart and Stoitchkov are accomplished goal scorers. Stewart scored 111 goals in 14 seasons in the Dutch League, making him the highest scoring international-based player from the United States.

In his first two games with United, playing as a central midfielder, the U.S. World Cup star didn't receive enough touches to be effective.

"It's not so much of showing how to put it in the back of the net, but more of an attitude maybe of going to goal," Stewart said. "I have a good feeling and understanding with Hristo and Marco and somehow maybe because you're pretty much the same age you feel each other in certain situations. Hopefully, that will help."

The fiery Stoitchkov brings a much-needed win-at-all-costs attitude to United's lineup. FIFA's 1994 footballer of the year is superb on set pieces and has pinpoint accuracy on his passes.

Acquired from the Fire in an offseason trade, Stoitchkov is both an assistant coach and player this season. At 37, he says there is still enough life in his legs for him to be the great player he once was.

Hudson will make a game-time decision whether he will partner Stoitchkov up top with Stewart as a starter, but the veteran will play regardless. The coach also is exploring the possibility of moving Quaranta to a wide right midfield role.

Hudson would also like to see Dema Kovalenko, United's holding midfielder, go forward more and join the attack with patented runs through the middle. All moves are designed to create more of an attack.

"I've said it all along: It will be a choppy year until this team really does come together and we find out what our best pieces are and where," Hudson said.

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