- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 17, 2003

D.C. United’s scoring woes just got worse.

Santino Quaranta, the team’s 18-year-old forward, suffered an abdominal injury in training yesterday and will miss tonight’s match against the Kansas City Wizards at RFK Stadium. The extent of Quaranta’s injury was not clear, but the youngster could be out of action for several weeks.

“Santino has been playing well and coming along,” said United coach Ray Hudson. “This is a big disappointment. We hope it’s just a mild abdominal strain and not the kind of injury that kept him out last year.” Quaranta started the first 11 games in 2002 but missed the last three months with an abdominal hernia.

Hudson will start rookie Alecko Eskandarian in place of Quaranta, alongside Earnie Stewart on the forward line. Each is looking for his first goal of the season. Eskandarian scored the game-winner as the U.S. under-23 team downed Mexico 3-1 Wednesday in Guadalajara.

The injury is a major blow for Quaranta, who appeared likely to be called up by American coach Bruce Arena for the U.S. team’s Memorial Day game against Wales at San Jose, Calif., on May26.

Although he scored a goal in United’s 3-2 loss to Kansas City in the season opener, Quaranta has yet to recover his rookie form of 2001.

“I’m not scoring goals, but I’m happy where I am,” Quaranta said Wednesday before his injury. “You play 90 minutes and if you finish that one chance off, everyone says you’re playing great. The breakthrough is coming.”

United has a solid defense but has managed just three goals in five games and is scoreless at home.

“It’s that decisive play,” said defender Mike Petke, who has scored one of United’s goals this season. “We’ve done everything except for that final pass, that selfish shot. It has to happen soon.”

United midfielder Bobby Convey was more direct.

“We just need to have our forwards stay up front and score and do their job,” said Convey. “In any other league in the world, the forwards are paid to score. They are the highest-paid players.”

United will be looking for its first home win of the season tonight against Kansas City. The club has never failed to win at least one of its first three home games. So far this season United (0-2-3, three points) has played two scoreless ties at RFK. Last year United went 2-3 in its first five games but managed to win two matches at home. The club won its first two home games in 2001 and its second home game in 2000.

“If you look at the five games we’ve played, four out of the five we feel we should have won,” said Dave Kasper, United’s technical director. “We’ve had a lot of distractions and suspensions and injuries. I hate to make excuses. We haven’t lost at home. Once we get that first goal, the floodgates will open.”

But the fans are restless. Even when United started 1-6 in 1996, it still won its second home game of the season.

“They’ve got to get a win at home,” said Kevin Payne managing director of AEG Soccer, which operates United. “It doesn’t have to be this weekend, but it’s better to be now rather than later.”

Game notes — Bulgarian defender Galin Ivanov will make his first start of the season for United after missing the club’s first five games with a hernia. Ivanov will start on the right in a three-man defense with Petke in the middle and Brandon Prideaux on the left. Ryan Nelsen will play just in front of Petke. … Azeem Azam, a British forward of Turkish descent, trained with United yesterday.

Blackburn at RFK? — After beating English Premier League club Tottenham Hotspur 1-0 Wednesday at RFK, United could face another Premier League club next month. Team officials are talking with the Blackburn Rovers in hopes of setting up an exhibition match at RFK.

“We are trying to get Blackburn,” Payne said. “It would be a preseason game for them.”

American World Cup goalie Brad Friedel stars for Blackburn, which finished sixth in the 20-team Premier League last week after beating Tottenham 4-0.

“I guess it’s a matter of do they want to come to Washington, D.C., and have the preseason [game],” Kasper said. “Nothing is finalized, but there’s a fair chance they will come in mid-June.”

Blackburn is the only team other than Arsenal and Manchester United to have won a title in the 11-year-old Premier League. The Rovers, who did it in 1995, will be playing in Europe next season in the UEFA Cup.

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