- The Washington Times - Friday, October 13, 2006

D.C. United once looked like the dominant team in MLS, putting together a 14-game unbeaten streak earlier in the season that was one of the best runs in the history of the league. Now, going into tomorrow’s regular-season finale against the Chicago Fire at RFK Stadium, the four-time MLS champions have won just twice in their past 12.

Though tomorrow’s clash has no bearing on the postseason, a loss won’t help heading into next week’s playoff match against either the New York Red Bulls or the Kansas City Wizards. As United striker Alecko Eskandarian noted, “Winning is contagious.”

Now United just needs to figure out why it hasn’t caught the disease:

• Freddy factor — Freddy Adu has produced some of his best soccer this season but seems to have no luck. Early in last Saturday’s loss to New England, the 17-year-old was playing well but faded in the second half and left the field frustrated. Adu, who has played in every game this season, has almost the same number of shots (53) as Eskandarian (54) but five fewer goals (two). Against the Revolution, Adu was denied a penalty kick after being fouled in the box. Now, he said, referees think he’s cheating.

“From now on, every time I’m on the field I’m going to try 120 percent not to ever go down,” Adu said. “If somebody fouls me, I’m going to keep playing until the referee blows the whistle because I’m not going to get the call if I go down.”

• No love — There’s a flip side to success. Everyone hates a perennial winner (see Yankees, New York). D.C. United is the most successful American soccer team and the club everyone wants to beat.

“Everyone is coming against us with their A-game because they know if they don’t they are going to lose badly,” United coach Peter Nowak said.

Boys behaving badly — United this season has received 61 yellow cards and five red cards, with the bulk of those cautions and ejections coming in the last 12 games. The suspensions have denied the club key players in a number of big games and caused instability in the starting lineup.

• Thought control — United played well against the Revolution and dominated offensive play, outshooting its opponent 22-11, but a lack of concentration early into the second half led to a 2-1 loss and is a persistent symptom of the team’s recent play.

“It’s just those lapses in concentration that must be remedied before the playoffs because they are going to be one-goal games and we need to hold that type of lead,” Ben Olsen said.

• Tired legs — The club’s all-time leading goal scorer, 32-year-old Jaime Moreno, has struggled with fatigue in his 11th MLS season. The coaches have given him time off. But Moreno, who has 11 goals this year, needs to find his old form.

• Alecko factor — Eskandarian has missed 10 games with a knee injury. With Moreno and Adu struggling to score, United needs a healthy Eskandarian and his powerful shooting ability.

• Fan factor — United has the best fans in the league, but the famous banners they hang from the upper deck may have a reverse effect on opponents they intend to mock. Landon Donovan destroyed United in the Los Angeles Galaxy’s 5-2 win at RFK and it’s hard not to wonder whether a banner that read “Match tickets $100. Airfare $1,000. Landon in Germany. Worthless!” motivated him. Last week New England’s Jay Heaps was welcomed by a banner that read “Compost Heaps,” and the former Duke basketball player went on to play a stunning match, earning an assist and pulling off a brilliant goal-line clearance that looked like a certain Christian Gomez goal.

“Maybe they need to put posters up about us like “You [Stink] Olsen” and get me going,” Olsen said.

Notes — United’s starting goalie Troy Perkins will miss tomorrow’s game with strep throat. … United will hold a Veterans Appreciation Day at tomorrow’s game.

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