- The Washington Times - Friday, October 10, 2003

It’s so close you can smell it. D.C. United is finally emerging from the wilderness. In a topsy-turvy-season of adversity, controversy and just downright bad luck, the promised land of the Major League Soccer playoffs is almost in sight.

Metaphor overkill? You bet, and why not? This is Ray Hudson’s team, and Hudson — perhaps the sport’s most quotable person — has proved he can coach as well as he can use the language.

United, once the flagship team of MLS as it stormed to three titles, could be back in postseason play if results go its way this weekend. A road victory today against the New England Revolution (9-9-9, 36 points) would put United (10-9-8, 38 points) in the playoffs for the first time in four years since the Columbus Crew (8-12-8, 32 points) lost to the Chicago Fire (14-6-8, 50 points) last night. United still could gain a playoff berth in its two last games, both at RFK Stadium.

“Football is a funny game,” Hudson said. “The reason why we are in this position is because we started so slowly, but we’ve crawled our way into serious contention. We can almost touch it, but we are not there yet.”

United made its last playoff appearance in 1999 under coach Thomas Rongen, who directed it to victory at the MLS Cup with a team built by former coach Bruce Arena.

For the New England game, Doug Warren will be back in the nets for United after missing the tie at Columbus last week because he was at his brother’s wedding.

Defender Mike Petke and midfielder Dema Kovalenko return from suspensions. The Revolution will be without forward Taylor Twellman who is out for the season with a broken foot. The former University of Maryland player leads the league in goals scored with 15.

Hudson’s biggest concern is how to deal with the absence of captain Ryan Nelsen, who has been called up by the New Zealand national team for a meaningless game in Iran. Hudson must decide whether to go with three defenders at the back or the usual four.

Hudson also is dismayed that New Zealand would call up players knowing that this is the most crucial time in the MLS season.

“It shows a lack of respect for MLS,” Hudson said. “If we were [an English] Premier League team, they wouldn’t dare call up a player with three games left in the season.”

The last time these teams met at Gillette Stadium was July26, when United rallied from a two-goal deficit in the final 12 minutes and won 4-2. The team has gone 6-3-2 since.

MLS expansion — MLS commissioner Don Garber said this week that a potential expansion team, Mexican-owned Chivas USA, would play in San Diego or Houston and that Cleveland is the other candidate to land an expansion franchise for the 2005 season.

CONCACAF news — It is expected that the team that finishes fourth in CONCACAF qualifying for the 2006 World Cup will play a team from Asia in a playoff for a berth. The United States plays in the CONCACAF region.

Meanwhile, the U.S. team and Mexico have been invited to the 2004 Copa America in Peru. Mexico has accepted the invitation to the 12-team event from July6 to 25; the Americans are still deciding.

Women’s World Cup — So what happened to the U.S. women, who missed the big prize and are relegated to playing Canada in today’s consolation game?

It appeared the Americans, who were good on the set pieces, lacked a striker who could run at the goal and finish. Only two of the team’s 12 goals came in the run of play.

In the final WUSA season, apart from the American duo of Abby Wambach (13 goals) and Mia Hamm ( 11), all the leading strikers were overseas players. Dagny Mellgren (Norway) led in goals scored with 14, followed by Marinette Pichon (France, 14), Julie Fleeting (Scotland, 11), Charmaine Hooper (Canada, 11), Birgit Prinz (Germany, 11) and Maren Meinert (Germany, (nine). …

The Women’s World Cup USA 2003 MasterCard All-Star team was selected this week by FIFA’s technical committee: goalkeeper — Silke Rottenberg (Germany); defenders — Charmaine Hooper (Canada), Liping Wang (China), Sandra Minnert (Germany), Joy Fawcett (USA); midfielders — Bettina Wiegmann (Germany), Maren Meinert (Germany), Malin Mostroem (Sweden), Shannon Boxx (USA); forwards — Birgit Prinz (Germany), Victoria Svensson (Sweden). Substitutes: goalkeeper — Caroline Joensson (Sweden); midfielders — Marta (Brazil), Solveig Gulbrandsen (Norway); forwards — Dagney Mellgren (Norway), Mia Hamm (USA).

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