- The Washington Times - Friday, May 7, 2004

With its next three games at home, D.C. United has an opportunity to climb to the top of Major League Soccer’s Eastern Conference standings.

Then again, third-place United (1-2-2) could sink further by not protecting its home field. It’s probably too early in the season to call tonight’s game against the reeling Columbus Crew (0-3-1) a must-win, but anything less than a victory against a team that has scored one goal all season would be unacceptable.

“The next two or three weeks are very important for us because we can establish ourselves into first place,” United coach Peter Nowak said.

Desperate best summarizes the Crew. The only winless team in MLS comes into RFK Stadium trying to save coach Greg Andrulis’ job. With Columbus having nothing to lose and still waiting for its offense to produce, United approaches the game cautiously.

“They are fighting for everything, and this is a very dangerous situation,” Nowak said. “We have to be very focused and concentrated on what we are doing.”

United is winless in its last three games but salvaged a 1-1 tie Saturday at San Jose on a second-half equalizer by midfielder Dema Kovalenko. United has been criticized for not being a second-half team. Kovalenko’s goal proved otherwise.

The tie in San Jose was a good result for the club, especially playing on Spartan Stadium’s small field [70-by-110 yards]. United’s players are hoping the San Jose game provided momentum going into this homestand.

“We haven’t picked up the points we needed to get for the level of play we’ve had,” midfielder Ben Olsen said.

Columbus does have some talent. Forward Edson Buddle is considered a rising star. Jeff Cunningham, who is Buddle’s strike partner up top, has scored five goals against United. Right back Frankie Hejduk scored the Crew’s lone goal this season.

“It’s always been a great matchup between us and them — they don’t like us and we don’t like them,” Olsen said. “They’re desperate for some points. So they’re going to come flying in, and hopefully we can stifle that early with some good play and some early goals to keep them down.”

United goalkeeper Nick Rimando said he’s not concerned that the Crew’s offense could have a breakout.

“They’re a good team and they’ve been unlucky,” Rimando said. “They’re going to come out at us and try to prove that they’re a good team and just because they’ve scored only one goal, it doesn’t mean anything.”

Nowak said earlier in the week that it will be a game-time decision whether Freddy Adu starts for the first time at home. Adu, who played 80 minutes last week against the Earthquakes in his first career start, believes he should start over Alecko Eskandarian because he played pretty well last week.

“[Eskandarian] has played very well, but coaches try things to see which two click the best, and I think it’s going to go on for a little while until we actually have two set forwards,” Adu said. “It’s competition, it’s fair game right now.”

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