- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 19, 2006

D.C. United wants to return to its winning ways — and winning games that count — tonight against the Colorado Rapids at RFK Stadium.

While United’s players have been involved in a number of impressive non-league matches recently, the team hasn’t won an MLS game since July 15 and is coming off a sluggish scoreless tie at the New York Red Bulls on Wednesday.

“What are you talking about, three games without a win?,” United midfielder Ben Olsen said. “Real Madrid was a win in my mind and the Columbus Crew performance was great. But you’re right, we are back to playing league games and we do need to get points. It’s a long season and summer is a grind, and you are going to get games like on Wednesday, when we didn’t look sharp.”

This month, United (13-2-7, 46 points), which leads the Eastern Conference by 18 points, defeated Columbus in the U.S. Open Cup, and eight United players helped the MLS All-Stars beat English champion Chelsea. Then United played to a stunning 1-1 tie with Spanish giant Real Madrid in Seattle.

“The excitement and the adrenaline was flowing, but now it’s back to reality,” United coach Peter Nowak said. “Now we’ve got to earn points and we have a lot of league games ahead of us to get back into game-rhythm.”

Meanwhile, former United and national team coach Bruce Arena is causing a stir. In a Sports Illustrated interview, Arena, who now is the Red Bulls coach, blasted U.S. Soccer, ripped MLS and bragged that the current United team is not as good as the United teams (1996-98) he coached.

Arena called Sunil Gulati, the president of U.S. Soccer, “a superfan” and a “micromanager”, adding: “I don’t think that’s necessarily good. He’s a guy who loves the game, who wants to be important and be around the world of bigwigs at FIFA, and he’s going to get that opportunity.”

Arena also boasted that there is no team in MLS “as talented as the D.C. United teams I had,” laughing off the idea that the current United team is as good.

“I’m biased because I was on the 1998 team and I’m on this team, too,” Olsen said of Arena’s comments yesterday. “If I wasn’t on that 1998 team, I’d say this is the best team ever. It’s tough to compare teams. That 1998 team was a pretty good team, but this year we have played some very nice stuff. Ask me when I’m done here and then I’ll rank the teams.”

Arena also said MLS is not as good as it was in the early days when it had players like Marco Etcheverry and Carlos Valderrama.

“I don’t think we can go back to ‘96, or ‘97, or the ‘98 times,” Nowak said. “We have great potential in this league and we can create heroes. We have a great environment and we should be proud. We shouldn’t be intimidated. Everyone says they want to play in Europe. Hey, I’d like to coach Real Madrid, but if we keep looking East we will lose our pride and identity.”

Notes — United acquired Argentine midfielder Matias Donnet this week. Donnet, 26, who comes from Boca Juniors in Argentina, has signed a contract but is waiting for a work permit and international clearance. He is the fourth Argentine player to join the team in three years. “We would like to have him as soon as we can,” Nowak said. …

A portion of today’s ticket sales will go to the team’s non-profit arm, United for D.C., to help its charity programs in the area. The team also will be collecting toiletries outside the ticket entrances. …

The U.S. team has dropped to No. 24 in the FIFA World rankings. The U.S. team entered the World Cup in Germany ranked fifth but ended up 25th out of the 32 teams. Brazil is No. 1 followed by Italy, Argentina, France, England, Netherlands, Spain, Portugal, Germany and the Czech Republic.

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