- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 1, 2005

This week has been a time of reflection for D.C. United.

After blowing a game in Chile in a major international tournament, United now must recharge for its final four-game stretch of the MLS season. A win today at the MetroStars (10-8-10, 40 points) would guarantee United (14-9-5, 47) a playoff spot.

A proud club with four MLS titles to its credit, United has been bounced out of three tournaments this season.

In April, United exited the CONCACAF championship after a crushing 5-0 loss to Pumas in Mexico. Then FC Dallas dispatched United in the U.S. Open Cup on a penalty kick shootout in Germantown. Last week’s loss probably was the worst of all: United lost a two-goal lead against Catolica in Santiago, Chile, and lost 3-2 in the Copa Sudamericana. The only goal for the club now, is to retain the MLS title and look to new opportunities next year.

“It’s been a real roller-coaster season,” said United midfielder Ben Olsen “The disappointments have been plenty. … We’ve lost some big games in tournament play, and that’s tough. Saying that, we have got one thing left. Maybe the loss in Chile will help us focus on that one thing and one goal and down the stretch of the playoffs, we will be solid and take something out of this season.”

But the loss in Chile was fresh on the players’ minds this week. United needed only to protect a 2-2 tie to advance in the Copa Sudamericana with less than five minutes left.

“We just weren’t smart,” said United goalie Nick Rimando. “We were up, yet we kept trying to score more goals instead of trying to take the time out of the clock.”

Still, the game in Chile was a good learning experience as the season reaches a crucial point.

“It was a playoff game,” Rimando said. “That’s how we looked at it, and if we let down our guard, that’s what’s going to happen in the playoffs.”

United will be missing key midfielder Christian Gomez (10 goals, eight assists), who is suspended for today’s game.

“Missing Christian is huge, ” Olsen said. “He is as good as they come in the league. He changed the whole dynamic of this team when he came, but we’ve got a lot of weapons on the bench waiting to come in.”

One of those is Freddy Adu, who will most likely replace Gomez after playing that role in practice games this week. Adu, who scored his first career goals against the MetroStars last season, missed both previous matches against United’s heated rivals this season — a scoreless road game in June and a 3-0 home win in August.

“When you play New York, you always have extra motivation,” Adu said. “You just want to go out there and beat them — not just beat them, but beat them bad.”

If it’s any consolation for United, the MetroStars’ key attacking midfielder, Amado Guevara, whose impressive stats equal Gomez, also is suspended.

The big choke — Is this becoming a habit? U.S. youth national teams do well in group play in international tournaments but then collapse in the sudden-death rounds.

Earlier this year, Adu and the Under-20 team at the World Championship in Holland won its group over Argentina, Germany and Egypt but lost to Italy in the round of 16.

In the Under-17 World Championship in Peru this week, the U.S. team again won its group, topping Italy, North Korea and the Ivory Coast, but lost in the quarterfinals to Holland 2-0.

Corner kicks — Former United captain Ryan Nelsen helped Blackburn Rovers earn their first win at Manchester United in league play since 1962 last week. American goalie Brad Friedel was in the nets for the 2-1 upset. …

Former University of Maryland star Taylor Twellman was named MLS player of the month after scoring five goals for the New England Revolution in September for a season total of 16. …

Has the English Premier League become boring?

With its $300 million lineup, Chelsea leads the EPL with 14 goals in seven games, but the Blues have been accused of playing bland and defensive soccer.

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