- The Washington Times - Friday, November 12, 2004

D.C. United midfielder Ben Olsen called last week’s match — a pulsating penalty-shootout victory over New England at RFK Stadium — “the best soccer game I’ve ever played in — ever.”

Now, Olsen and D.C. United have a different sort of challenge when they face Kansas City in the MLS Cup at Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif.

Whereas the Revolution play a disorganized style, the Wizards have been the most consistent team in MLS this season even though they have been labeled unfairly as nondescript. They lead the league in victories (14) and have allowed only 30 goals in 30 games.

Wizards coach Bob Gansler, known for defensive and disciplined soccer, is a shrewd tactician who will do his best to shake up United’s smooth, possession-style game. Unlike the Revolution, who attacked D.C. from the opening whistle, the Wizards will show patience against United’s attractive offensive play and counterattack using the explosive speed of Josh Wolff and Davy Arnaud.

United must take its time to find the holes in the Wizards’ backline and defend wisely.

“Bob Gansler has been coaching that team for years, and it’s always the same soccer,” United defender Mike Petke said. “They have a tough defense, a tough midfield that distributes well and some power players up front.”

The teams split a pair of 1-0 games this year. United has a 9-10-4 record all time against the Wizards, and this will be their first postseason meeting.

The Wizards were without key players Preki, Tony Meola and Chris Klein for most of the season but still won the Western Conference title. The team came on strong late, losing just two games in its last 11.

Now, however, the Wizards will face a team peaking just at the right moment. Inconsistent until September, United is unbeaten in its last six games and has won eight of its last nine. The question is can United generate the same energy and passion it showed last week against the Revolution?

Game notes — The Wizards still have seven players from the team that defeated Chicago 1-0 in the MLS Cup at RFK in 2000: Nick Garcia, Francisco Gomez, Chris Klein, Tony Meola, Bo Oshoniyi, Preki and Kerry Zavagnin. United coach Peter Nowak and midfielder Dema Kovalenko played on that Chicago team, as did United defender Brandon Prideaux, who started for the Wizards.

Adu factor — Freddy Adu might just save the day for MLS, which has to fill the 27,000 Home Depot Center for tomorrow’s MLS Cup without Los Angeles in the final. The 15-year-old, who likely will come off the bench, helped United pull in the best crowds on the road with an average of 23,686, way above the league average of 15,559. United drew 15,392 last season on the road.

And how has Adu enjoyed his first year with United?

“When I first came in, things weren’t so great trying to get used to the guys,” Adu said. “Now it’s so much fun, and it shows on the field. The guys trust me now. I can play my game. I can take people on the dribble. I might lose the ball sometimes, but they encourage it because they know that’s my strength.”

Corner kicks — The expansion draft to stock Chivas USA (Los Angeles) and Real Salt Lake will be Friday. Each MLS team will be able to protect 12 players in the 10-round draft, with the risk of losing no more than three. …

If you thought last week’s game at RFK was nerve-wracking, imagine how United captain Ryan Nelsen felt stuck on the bench because of a suspension.

“I was not only biting my nails but also biting Dema’s [Kovalenko’s] nails,” Nelsen said. “It was horrible.” …

The U.S. national team faces Jamaica in Columbus, Ohio, on Wednesday in the final game of the semifinal round of World Cup qualifying in Group 1.

The Americans (11 points) already have advanced to the six-team final round next year, while Jamaica (six points) needs a win or a tie coupled with a loss or tie by Panama (five) against visiting El Salvador (four). El Salvador can advance with a win over Panama and a Jamaica loss.

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