- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 11, 2003

D.C. United faces a new season as a vastly changed club.
Jaime Moreno, Eddie Pope and Richie Williams, who starred with United in the club's first season and the glory years that followed, have been shipped to the New York/New Jersey MetroStars. Prodigy Justin Mapp is now with Chicago. Others, such as Roy Lassiter, Petter Villegas, Henry Zambrano, Mike McGinty and Lazo Alavanja, departed as soon as the season ended. Two assistant coaches and the club's trainer also have moved on in recent weeks.
Never before has so much talent been traded away. It's risky stuff, but United coach Ray Hudson believes he had no alternative after the club failed to make the playoffs for a third straight year.
"It needed to be a new team," Hudson said. "We were locked in a pattern. It didn't need tinkering, it didn't need a shake, it needed surgery. These are bold and brave moves."
Bold moves indeed, and fans will be watching closely.
"This club has been mired in the past with hallowed statues," Hudson said. "This team did well in a mediocre league, but the league has changed. Now it's much more competitive. You can't play all that fluffy soccer of the past in this league now."
To help fill the void, United brought in defender Mike Petke from the MetroStars and midfielder Dema Kovalenko from the Fire. Hudson says he is on the verge of signing defender Galin Ivanov, whom he's "always wanted," from top Bulgarian club CSKA Sofia. And on Thursday, Hudson left for Spain to check out an Argentine forward. This is his fourth overseas trip in search of talent since the end of last season.
"I could watch videos and take a chance, but I feel I have to check out players myself," the coach said.
Hudson has high praise for Kovalenko and Petke and sees Ivanov playing as a central defender between Petke and Milton Reyes, possibly allowing Ryan Nelsen to move up as a defensive midfielder.
Hudson knows he could face criticism because of the trades. He says he gave extensive opportunities to players to prove themselves and agonized over his decisions.
United is due two player allocations (expensive players), one for failing to make the playoffs and the other for the trade with the MetroStars. But Hudson says "it's more like one allocation" because of "hidden facts" and promised pay raises.
Other options for Hudson are aging American World Cup stars Earnie Stewart and Joe-Max Moore, as well as former United favorite John Harkes. Hudson has spoken to all three recently.
Of the three, Harkes could be the most appealing because the club will need a replacement for aging left back Ivan McKinley, whose career could be over after he seriously injured his Achilles' tendon recently.
"With Ivan out, we may need someone like John," Hudson said. "John's a leader, a man's man who could play a role on this squad."
Hudson hopes to have most of his lineup in place once Friday's draft is over.
United, which has the first pick in the draft, is expected to select Virginia forward Alecko Eskandarian, who signed as a Project 40 player with Major League Soccer this week. But nothing is certain. Hudson has done a lot of research and promises some surprises at the draft.
"He certainly is the best player at the draft," Hudson said of Eskandarian, "but is he the best player for us at this moment?"
U.K. calling West Bromwich Albion manager Gary Megson says he has not given up hope of luring American World Cup midfielder Tony Sanneh to the Premier League team. Sanneh, a former D.C. United player now with German club Nurnberg, turned down a move to the English club this week.
The 31-year-old Sanneh was recommended to Megson by his U.S.-based brother, Neil.
American under-17 star Jonathan Spector will sign a contract with English giant Manchester United when he turns 17 on March1. The Arlington Heights, Ill., defender will follow fellow Americans Jovan Kirovski (Birmingham) and John Thorrington (Huddesfield), both of whom played for Manchester United's youth team, which has produced players like David Beckham.
Corner kicks The Mohawk is gone, but Clint Mathis, the U.S. team's leading scorer in 2002, is still showing his unique style. Mathis turned up at the U.S. training camp for the first fitness evaluation sporting snakeskin running shoes. Los Angeles striker Carlos Ruiz, who scored a league-leading 24 goals and collected the MLS MVP award, was named "Person of the Year" in his homeland of Guatemala. Ruiz beat out 11 finalists, including lawyers, civil advocates and artists.

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