- The Washington Times - Friday, August 26, 2005

Defender Facundo Erpen made a strong first impression in his club debut Wednesday night against FC Dallas in the U.S. Open Cup at the SoccerPlex in Germantown.

D.C. United’s latest signing probably didn’t expect his debut to feature 120 minutes of intense soccer. Playing with a man down for nearly half the match, United lost on penalty kicks following a 1-1 tie. But the Argentine appears to have passed his first test, looking comfortable and confident in his role as a right-back, even though he had been more of a central defender throughout his career.

The 22-year-old showed good vision and made productive passes. Erpen is unlikely to stray too far from the back line, but he appears to have good heading skills that will come into use on set pieces. He also performed a number of amazing aerial defensive moves, clearing the ball twice with overhead kicks. Erpen could be the man the United needs to give depth and stability to the defense since the departure of Ryan Nelsen to England after last season.

Erpen’s baptism into Major League Soccer regular-season play will come tonight when he replaces suspended Bryan Namoff as United travels to face the New England Revolution.

“I thought [Erpen] was strong,” Namoff said after the FC Dallas game. “It’s good to get him in early considering I’m going to be out with a red card against New England. It’s good to get that chemistry started early. He did well. It’s tough to adjust to a new team. I think his pace is good at the back.”

After containing Dallas’ star striker Carlos Ruiz for most of Wednesday night — a tough feat for any defender — Erpen likely will have to deal with the Revolution’s big, physical striker, Taylor Twellman (10 goals), a former Maryland Terrapin who is always a menace when playing United. The Revolution’s other bruiser, Clint Dempsey, is suspended for the game, as is starting goalie Matt Reis. Former United reserve goalie Doug Warren, who has never won an MLS match in seven tries, replaces Reis.

A victory for United (11-7-5, 38 points) would bring it within one point of the Eastern Conference-leading Revolution (12-5-6, 42 points) and give it the head-to-head tiebreaker advantage.

“The New England game is so important for us,” forward Freddy Adu said. “We call this a six-point game.”

Adu made some fine runs Wednesday after a three-week layoff with a sprained right knee and no doubt will see action tonight.

United has won two consecutive away games and is unbeaten away from RFK in four matches.

“We need to send a message to these East Coast teams that we are there and creeping up behind them and that if they meet us in the playoffs we are a pretty good team,” said midfielder Ben Olsen, who has returned from a hip injury.

Ajax in the USA — Ajax America, an Orlando-based soccer conglomerate affiliated with Dutch club Ajax of Amsterdam, is in discussions with MLS about possible investment in the San Jose Earthquakes and the Kansas City Wizards, two teams for sale. Ajax America officials also stated they would like to establish an MLS team in the Orlando area, but they do not expect either the Earthquakes or Wizards to relocate to Florida.

Hall of Fame — John Harkes and Marcelo Balboa will come out of retirement for a day and play for their old clubs on Monday in the Hall of Fame Game in Oneonta, N.Y., in celebration of their induction into the National Soccer Hall of Fame. Harkes will lead out United, while Balboa will captain the Colorado Rapids. The game will be aired live on Fox Soccer Channel at 1 p.m.

Roundup — Defending champion Liverpool was drawn in the same group as English Premier League title holder Chelsea in the Champions League. Liverpool beat Chelsea in the semifinal last season. … Congratulations to ESPNsoccernet.com on the Web site’s 10th anniversary.

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