- The Washington Times - Friday, October 21, 2005

Winning a title is one thing. Repeating is another.

D.C. United begins its defense of the 2004 MLS Cup championship tonight against the Chicago Fire in the first game of the Eastern Conference semifinals at Soldier Field. The return game is at RFK Stadium on Oct. 30.

United (16-10-6, 54 points) is the only team to win back-to-back championships, claiming the league’s first two trophies in 1996 and 1997.

“It’s very tough to repeat,” United midfielder Ben Olsen said. “I’ve never done it. D.C. has done it, but that was D.C. early in this league. Now it’s very difficult to repeat. Ten years into MLS, it’s a lot more difficult. You have better coaching, better players.”

The San Jose Earthquakes are the only other team with two titles, winning in 2001 and 2003.

“There are more strategic-type teams now, and they figure you out through the year and learn how to stop you,” said Olsen, the MLS Cup MVP when United won its third title in 1999. “To repeat we need to be consistent.”

And United hasn’t been — on the field or off. The team ended the season with two poor home performances — a 2-1 loss to the MetroStars and a 2-2 draw with the last-place Columbus Crew.

Off the field, Freddy Adu complained about his lack of playing time. Adu is expected to be on the bench tonight, with either Santino Quaranta or Jamil Walker partnering Jaime Moreno in the attack.

Chicago (15-13-4, 49 points) enters the playoffs in even worse shape. The Fire’s last win was four games back, and they have the worst defense in the East, giving up a whopping 50 goals, compared to United’s 37.

But United has not beaten the Fire in postseason play in three attempts. United lost the MLS Cup in 1998 to Chicago, which was captained by Peter Nowak, now United’s coach. United also was swept in the playoffs by the Fire in 2003 in back-to-back 2-0 defeats.

This season United is 2-1-1 against the Fire, and most of the games have been high-scoring. The clubs traded 4-3 wins and a 1-1 tie. In their last encounter, United won 3-2 at the Fire in August.

United has the most explosive offense in the league with 58 goals, but in its last two games, the defense has been lax in its marking.

“I’m not pointing figures, but we have to be better defensively,” United midfielder Dema Kovalenko said. “In the playoffs it’s going to be one-goal games. The most important thing is we need to tighten up in the back, but it’s the role of the whole team.”

Said Olsen: “The season is 10 months, and suddenly it doesn’t matter. For four games, you have to play the best soccer of the year.”

Tonight’s game could be the last MLS game at Soldier Field. The Fire will move into a new soccer-specific stadium in Bridgeview next season.

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