- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 10, 2004

With World Cup qualifying starting, all Major League Soccer teams are going to be short-handed.

But D.C. United’s season-long mismanagement of its injury-riddled and depleted roster has it more short-handed than most MLS rivals.

Since Opening Day, United is the only club in the 10-team league that has failed to fill an open roster spot. In Saturday’s 3-0 loss to the Chicago Fire, Bryan Namoff was unable to play because of an abdominal problem, leaving United with three able defenders and none on the bench.

Fire striker Damani Ralph beat second-year defenseman David Stokes for two goals en route to his first career hat trick. United had no one on the bench to relieve Stokes, and the final score was mercifully lower than it should have been.

Three weeks ago in Colorado, United dressed three goalkeepers for the match instead of using an available spot for a field player on its 16-player travel roster. United lost 2-1.

“We’re looking at opportunities now, but we haven’t found the right thing yet, and we’re not going to fill [the spot] just to fill it,” United president Kevin Payne said. “The question is finding the right player at the right position for the right price, which isn’t easy.”

Payne doesn’t think being short-handed is a problem. He points to MLS’ seven-month season as giving United time to right itself. The club has lost three of its past four games. During that span, an own goal by the New England Revolution handed United (3-5-3) its sole victory.

As Saturday’s game illustrated, United is dangerously thin in the back and has no proven goal scorer and no target forward although there is space to add a body. United has been searching for a box presence the past three years.

After 11 games, no United player has scored more than two goals, and the club finds itself in the same position as last year with 12 points. United is trying to spin that it is an improved team, but it doesn’t show up in the standings.

United is carrying a glut of unproductive forwards with serious salary cap ramifications. Forwards Santino Quaranta, Thiago Martins and Eliseo Quintanilla have yet to play in a match because of injuries. Under MLS guidelines, teams are not allowed to waive players who are injured, so the trio represent $181,500 worth of players and salary cap that has brought no dividends.

Add top draft pick and midfielder Kevin Ara, who has played 15 minutes this season, and goalkeeper Doug Warren, who has played in only one match, and five of United’s 18 players haven’t contributed.

“Obviously, you have to find a player that is available on a free transfer, otherwise we can’t make any move that would require a loan or a transfer of a player until Aug.15,” United technical director Dave Kasper said. “[But] if the player is a free agent, then we can do so.”

With the European leagues now completed, United could sign any player out of contract from overseas. Saddled with a stringent $1.7million salary cap, United would probably have to waive somebody to get a proven goal scorer from Europe or elsewhere.

Martins and Quintanilla suffered setbacks during training and remain hurt. Martins re-injured his surgically repaired left knee Tuesday in training, and Quintanilla may need a screw implanted in his right leg to heal a broken fibula.

United could place one of its injured forwards on the season-ending injured-reserve list, thus creating another roster space.

“We have two roster spots [one developmental] and, of course, the long-term injuries, and we have to think about what we have to do to make things better,” first-year coach Peter Nowak said. “We’re trying and looking in different places to fill out our roster spots. We’re doing everything we can to bring the best people we can.”

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