- The Washington Times - Friday, May 27, 2005

D.C. United’s three wins this season, though hard-fought and well-deserved, have come against three of Major League Soccer’s weaker teams: Chivas USA, Columbus and Kansas City (aggregate 7-14-5 record). The first real test for United comes tonight when it plays high-flying FC Dallas (5-1-3, 18 points) at RFK Stadium.

Formerly the Dallas Burn and a perennial basement team, the renamed club is a force to be reckoned with.

“For the first quarter of the [season], they have been one of the best performing teams, and you can’t argue with the attack they have,” said United forward Alecko Eskandarian.

The key to stopping FC Dallas will be how well United can contain talented midfielder Ronnie O’Brien (four goals, five assists) and slippery forward Carlos Ruiz (five goals, three assists), who plays with his back to the goal and can cause damage if he is allowed to turn on a defender.

“If Ruiz looks at the goal, he’s going to be dangerous,” United president Kevin Payne said.

So how does United contain him? Said goalie Nick Rimando: “We will just try and keep our midfielders in front of him in the passing lane and keep our defenders as tight as they can on covering him.”

Ruiz has a reputation for taking dives to win dead-ball situations in opponents’ danger zones.

“I’m sure the fans and the ref will let him know about his diving,” Rimando said. “But he’s always in the right spot at the right time, and that’s how he gets his goals.”

FC Dallas, like United, will be missing key players for the match. Rising American star Eddie Johnson (five goals, one assist) and veteran defender Greg Vanney are with the national team for an exhibition match against England in Chicago, as is United defensive midfielder Clyde Simms.

United also will be without midfielder Josh Gros, who has started every game this season but was suspended after receiving a red card late in last week’s game against the Wizards.

Without Simms and Gros, it’s likely that Freddy Adu and Dema Kovalenko will start tonight.

FC Dallas has lost just once in six road games and is the best traveling team in the league (2-1-3, nine points). The loss came to the Los Angeles Galaxy before 20,000 at Home Depot Center, a tough place for all visitors. However, the Texas team hammered Chivas USA 5-2 in L.A. last week.

United notes — Following tonight’s game Adu will join the U.S. Under-20 team as it prepares for next month’s world youth championship in the Netherlands. … Because of new water valves installed at RFK for the baseball field, D.C. United will be able to water the field just before every game. “We think we are a technical team more than most teams in this league, so we want the field to be as fast as possible,” Payne explained.

The English are coming — The England team that meets the Americans at Soldier Field today and Colombia at Giants Stadium on Tuesday arrives after a grueling 40-game schedule and will be stripped of many starters.

Still, the visitors figure to give Landon Donovan and the U.S. team a good workout before more than 42,000, as U.S. coach Bruce Arena prepares for World Cup qualifying games against Costa Rica next Saturday in Salt Lake City and four days later in Panama.

Only two players (Chelsea’s Joe Cole and Arsenal’s Ashley Cole) who started for England in its last game, a 2-0 World Cup qualifying win over Azerbaijan in March, will face the Americans. The English are without Frank Lampard, John Terry, David Beckham, Michael Owen, Gary Neville, Rio Ferdinand, Paul Robinson, Wayne Rooney and Steven Gerrard.

“I would say anyway you cut it, the team that England brings in here on Saturday is one of the better teams in the world,” Arena said.

Beckham and Owen are still with Real Madrid for the last game of the season but should be available for the Colombia game. Gerrard led Liverpool to a penalty-shootout victory over AC Milan after a 3-3 tie in Wednesday’s Champions League final.

England coach Sven-Goran Eriksson does not underestimate the Americans, who like England reached the quarterfinals of the 2002 World Cup.

“In the World Cup, they were very organized,” Eriksson said. “They never gave up. Very, very good fighting spirit. America always has that in every sport they go into.”

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