- The Washington Times - Friday, October 7, 2005

D.C. United always has been a trailblazer in Major League Soccer, finding talented players from unusual sources, with mostly positive results.

In the earlier days, Kevin Payne and company picked up a couple of Bolivian players, Marco Etcheverry and Jaime Moreno, who became the best in the league. Now the league’s flagship club has taken on a decidedly Argentine flavor. With three players on its roster from the soccer-mad nation that produced the great Diego Maradona — a forward, a midfielder and central defender — United is fast becoming Buenos Aires on the Anacostia.

Forward Lucio Filomeno, the club’s newest recruit from Argentina, may debut tonight as United entertains the MetroStars at RFK Stadium in its second-to-last league game of the season.

Filomeno follows midfielder Christian Gomez, who signed last August, and central defender Facundo Erpen, who moved in two months ago.

The club seems to have has struck gold with Gomez and Erpen, who have made a major impact on the club. Gomez has been stunning this season with 11 goals and nine assists, while Erpen has solidified his role as the team’s central defender and scored one goal.

“We just keep on riding this Argentine wave,” midfielder Ben Olsen said.

At 5-foot-11 and stocky, Filomeno brings a physical presence to United’s attack, which is good because the team’s other strikers — Moreno, Freddy Adu and Santino Quaranta — hardly could be classified as big center-forwards.

United coach Peter Nowak said he wants Filomeno to play tonight, but it depends on his nagging knee injury. The Argentine striker put in a full practice yesterday.

“I think Lucio is going to give us a little bit more competition up front,” Nowak said. “At the end of the season, you don’t want to be hit with injuries and yellow cards. We just want to make sure that before we go into the playoffs we have every piece in place.”

With United’s three Argentine players, there are now six Argentine players in MLS.

“The coaching staff have scouted us out,” Gomez said. “In Erpen’s case, he has proven to be a good defender, and with Lucio coming in, I know him personally because I’ve played with him and I know the quality he brings.”

French World Cup winner Youri Djorkaeff, 37, and the MetroStars come to RFK Stadium tonight as a wounded club following the firing of coach Ben Bradley — a former assistant coach at United — on Tuesday. Assistant coach Mo Johnston has taken over the duties for the club on an interim basis. The MetroStars must beat United to have any shot at a playoff spot.

Bang that drum — It was a busy week for Gomez.

Last Saturday he was suspended for United’s game at the MetroStars, but that didn’t stop the midfielder from helping his team. He was in the stands at Giants Stadium wearing an Argentine team jersey and banging a big drum surrounded by United’s traveling loyalists. Olsen says Gomez’s new nickname in the locker room is “Bomba.”

On Wednesday Gomez notched a goal and an assist to help United beat Real Salt Lake 3-1, and yesterday he was sitting in the East Room of the White House. He was being recognized by President Bush at an event marking Hispanic Heritage month.

“I’m very happy to see President Bush up close,” Gomez said. “I will never forget being here at the White House.”

Gomez was accompanied at the event by MLS Player of the Week Herculez Gomez.

“Even though the president called me Hector, it’s OK,” the Los Angeles Galaxy striker said.

Big World Cup Games — In the next few days, many of the 32 spots at the World Cup in Germany will be decided.

Amazingly, in Africa all five slots will be decided today in the final playoff matches. Togo and Senegal (Group 1), Ghana and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (Group 2), Cameroon and Ivory Coast (Group 3), Angola and Nigeria (Group 4) and Tunisia and Morocco (Group 5) all have a chance of advancing.

In Europe, Holland, Portugal and Italy can book berths if they avoid defeat today, while France and Sweden would advance with wins.

England can earn a berth with home wins over Austria today and Poland on Wednesday. If England loses today, Poland will advance. With a win over Austria, combined with Holland beating the Czech Republic, England would advance as the best runner-up of its group.

United coach Peter Nowak said he will join visiting Polish president Aleksander Kwasniewski at the Polish Embassy to watch the mid-week Poland-England clash.

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