- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 2, 2005

D.C. United heads into its 10th season in Major League Soccer just as it left off last year — solid in the midfield and potentially powerful in the offense but needing some tinkering on the backline.

The defending MLS champion registered a 9-2-1 record in the preseason, but it must shore up a defense that was only sixth best in the league last year and is now without central defender Ryan Nelsen, who left to play in England.

United opens its 2005 campaign today against expansion club Chivas USA at a likely packed Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif.

“We’ve had a very good preseason where we looked fairly sharp,” United technical director Dave Kasper said.

Peter Nowak’s strict discipline, on and off the field, paid off last year, and it looks like the second-year coach will not be pressured to start youngster Freddy Adu, who dominated headlines in 2004.

United may have found an answer to some of its defensive woes in Bobby Boswell, a star at Florida International who was picked up in the preseason. The 6-foot-2, 185-pound Boswell has started United’s last three matches and has played well in a three-man backline with Brandon Prideaux and Mike Petke. Between the posts, United puts its faith in the small but agile Nick Rimando and has Troy Perkins, who started 16 games last season, as a capable backup.

The club’s midfield, led by Argentine playmaker Christian Gomez, might just be the envy of the league. English newcomer Steve Guppy appears to be a great signing. The 36-year-old veteran, noted for his crosses from the flanks, fills out the middle alongside Brian Carroll, Ben Olsen and Josh Gros. Adu, 15, who had an impressive freshman season playing in all 30 games, likely will see time coming off the bench to replace Gomez, who rarely lasts 90 minutes.

“Freddy is a long-term project,” Kasper said. “We have expectations that he will get quality minutes this season.”

On the front line, United once again will look to Jaime Moreno, who is fourth on the MLS all-time goals list with 78. Partnering the Bolivian ace will be Alecko Eskandarian or Santino Quaranta.

Eskandarian was bothered this preseason by pain in his knee, but after an MRI exam revealed no problems, he was back in training this week.

Quaranta, who as a 16-year-old joined the team with high hopes in 2001, has missed much of the last two seasons because of injuries.

“Santino is very sharp, and we think he is going to have a great year,” Kasper said. “We’ve seen glimpses in his first few years, but he’s been hit by injuries.”

Returning to the MLS Cup will be tough for the champions, who are joined in the Eastern Conference this season by Kansas City. The Wizards had the best record in league play thanks to a stingy defense in 2004 but fell to United in the MLS Cup 3-2. If it can gets its defense in order, New England also will be a contender to win the East.

While today’s game is important, United is also looking anxiously to Wednesday’s game against Mexican champion UNAM Pumas in the semifinal series of the CONCACAF Cup at RFK Stadium. The Cup has taken on immense importance because the winner will play in the FIFA Club World Championship in Japan in December.

Making room — After nine years of playing alone at RFK, United now must share the venue with the Washington Nationals. The conversion of RFK Stadium from baseball to soccer will take 48 hours and will include the reconfiguration of 4,000 seats. The baseball mound automatically will retract into the ground on a hydraulic platform for soccer games and then be covered with sand and sod.

Club president Kevin Payne has said the field, aside from the mound area, will be a better playing surface than last year because of its new drainage system.

Radio news — D.C. United has launched a one-hour call-in radio show that will be broadcast Sunday evenings on WJFK (FM-106.7) at 7 p.m. with John Dyson and Tony Limarzi as hosts.

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