- The Washington Times - Friday, May 20, 2005

The Kansas City Wizards venture into RFK Stadium tonight, but D.C. United isn’t quite sure which team from the heartland will turn up. Will it be the Wizards who held United to a drab scoreless tie at Arrowhead Stadium last month in a game that nearly put the ESPN2 announcers in a coma, or will it be the Kansas City team that shredded ailing Columbus’ defense in a 4-0 romp in Ohio last week?

Tonight’s visitors haven’t beaten United at RFK since Aug.4, 1996, a 10-game stretch. The Wizards’ best results in D.C. have been two scoreless ties and two 1-1 ties. That’s hardly enterprising stuff, but things could be different tonight because the Wizards (2-1-3, 9 points) have provided a dilemma for opponents this season.

Known for their defensive ways under the cautious coaching of Bob Gansler, the Wizards allowed a league-low 30 goals in 2004 as the club won the Western Conference before losing to United in the MLS Cup.

“Kansas City is always a hard team to break down,” said United president Kevin Payne, whose team is 2-3-2. “They are very organized in the way they defend. We’ll have to see if they try to attack as they did in Columbus. Typically, when they are on the road they don’t take that posture. If they do, it will make it easier for us maybe to have opportunities, but we will have to defend well because they have some dangerous players going forward. Getting the first goal against any team is important, but it’s especially important against Kansas City.”

While defense has been their trademark, the Wizards certainly have shown more hunger around the goal than United lately. The club managed 38 goals in 30 games last year — seventh in the league — but the Wizards already have notched 14 goals in just six games. Josh Wolff (four goals, four assists) and Chris Klein (four goals, three assists) have been the top weapons.

Meanwhile, United coach Peter Nowak still is trying to unlock the potential of his team’s attack, which is stuttering along with just nine goals in seven games. Still, Nowak is quick to defend the moderate efforts of Jaime Moreno (three goals) and the scoreless Alecko Eskandarian.

“They work their butts off. That’s why I play them,” Nowak said. “I’m not looking for loyalty but for honesty. Who am I going to play? The guy who may make it or not, or the guy who makes the effort? I believe in them, and I trust them. Sooner or later the work effort will pay off. I have 28 players, and everyone has a chance to play. It’s up to them. I don’t choose the lineup; they do every single day in practice.”

United notes — Freddy Adu likely will open the game on the bench today. Adu played all 90 minutes and scored on a penalty kick in the U.S. under-20 team’s 2-1 defeat of Canada on Wednesday in Blaine, Minn.

Defender Mike Petke also may be on the bench today, with Bryan Namoff possibly earning his first start on the backline. Nowak had Namoff playing with the starters in scrimmages against the reserves this week.

Get the mower out — Payne said United always has had a good relationship with the Washington Nationals’ staff, but he wished the grounds crew would mow the grass a little shorter. Payne said the grass was too long in the last home match, and he hopes the field will be mowed this morning for the 7:30p.m. kickoff. The shorter the grass, the quicker the ball moves.

Americans abroad — American star Brian McBride finished with two goals and an assist in Fulham’s 6-0 win over Norwich on Sunday. McBride has scored six goals in his last nine league games for the Cottagers, who will play the MLS All-Stars at Columbus Crew Stadium on June30.

FA Cup classic — Two old rivals meet in the FA Cup today at Millennium Stadium in Cardiff, Wales. Manchester United and Arsenal both will be appearing in their 17th final in the world’s oldest soccer event. United has won the Cup a record 11 times, while Arsenal is second with nine wins.

United coach Sir Alex Ferguson has won it five times with the Red Devils, and Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger has won it three times with the Gunners.

It will be United’s first game with American billionaire Malcolm Glazer in full control of the team. Glazer secured 75 percent of the club’s shares this week.

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