- The Washington Times - Friday, September 9, 2005

Through all its ups and downs recently — red cards, late losses, own goals, injuries and suspensions — D.C. United has had one steady player: Christian Gomez.

The Argentine playmaker has scored goals and avoided suspension, unlike some teammates who have not shown the same discipline and consistency in recent games.

“I have told my players Christian is the guy who can really give us the win,” coach Peter Nowak said. “It’s very important to find him on the field as soon as we can. Just like we did in the past with Marco Etcheverry, he is the player who can change a game completely.”

Gomez, 31, joined United in August 2004 and helped it win the MLS Cup. This season the quiet midfielder has continued to be a valuable performer.

“So far it’s been a good season for me — I’ve scored nine goals, but it’s been a collective effort,” Gomez said. “The coach has given me the freedom to play and express myself.”

United has been dealing with various disciplinary problems on the field and has had a player sent off in three of its last four Major League Soccer games. Key striker Jamie Moreno and veteran midfielder Ben Olsen are both suspended for tonight’s game at FC Dallas. Josh Gros, Dema Kovalenko and Bryan Namoff also have faced suspensions recently.

Moreno leads the team with 12 goals but eight have come on penalty kicks. Gomez, on the other hand, has scored nine goals in the run of play.

“Christian has a quality that not too many playmakers have,” Nowak said. “He has scored a lot of goals and they are not from PKs or free kicks.”

Nowak, a former midfielder, sees a lot of himself in Gomez.

As a quintessential playmaker with the Chicago Fire for five seasons (1998 to 2002), Nowak collected 26 goals and 48 assists in 114 games. But he never scored nine goals in a season like Gomez. Gomez now has 13 goals and seven assists in 35 career MLS games.

“I was worried that the playmaking type would die off like the dinosaur,” Nowak said, “but Christian is the last one right now on the field who can provide and set up goals as a playmaker.”

Though United is seven points ahead of the MetroStars for the final playoff berth in the Eastern Conference, the team has lost three of its last four league games.

“Our problems this season have come when we lose concentration and step out of the system Peter wants us to play,” Gomez said. “As a group, we need to find the right balance as we head down the last stretch of the season, like we did last year.”

United has some unfinished business with FC Dallas. The teams met last month in Germantown, where FC Dallas beat United on penalty kicks in the U.S. Open Cup after Carlos Ruiz tied the game 1-1 in the dying seconds. When the teams last met in league play, the Guatemalan star scored on a brilliant bicycle kick in United’s 2-0 loss at RFK Stadium in May.

“We need to be smart,” Nowak said. “Carlos Ruiz and Eddie Johnson can hurt you if you give them any room.”

FC Dallas is desperate to win in its new home, Pizza Hut Park, which opened last month. Since moving into the 21,193-seat soccer-specific stadium, FC Dallas has two losses and two ties. The Texas team also is in a club-record nine-game winless streak in league play.

United notes — United will play host to the first leg of its inaugural Copa Sudamericana tie Tuesday against Universidad Catolica of Chile in the round of 16 at RFK Stadium at 8:15 p.m. The return leg will be played in Santiago on Sept.22.

Should United advance to the quarterfinals, it would face Fluminense (Brazil) or Banfield (Argentina). The tournament winner will earn $795,000 and the runner-up $695,000. …

Former D.C. United forward Hristo Stoitchkov is being investigated by FIFA after the hot-tempered star, now the coach of Bulgaria, accused Lennart Johansson, the Swedish president of European soccer’s top body UEFA, of influencing his team’s 3-0 loss to Sweden in a World Cup qualifier. Stoitchkov was ejected from the game and later told the media “the result was predetermined.”

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