- The Washington Times - Friday, October 20, 2006

D.C. United needs to do two things on the road today against the New York Red Bulls in the first game of the Major League Soccer playoffs: take midfielder Amado Guevara out of the game with some tight marking and keep an eye on forward Youri Djorkaeff.

These two combustible veterans appear to be finding their old form at just the right time. Guevara, nicknamed “El Lobo” — the Wolf — ended the regular season last week with a hat trick in a 3-2 win over the Kansas City Wizards. Meanwhile, Djorkaeff is sending signals that he wants to end his illustrious 22-year career on a high note.

“[Guevara] can play backwards and is as talented as they come in this league,” United midfielder Ben Olsen said. “Djorkaeff can still pull off some nice stuff himself. They have got a lot of good guys who are hungry, but the concentration will be on Guevara and Djorkaeff — and Edson Buddle to some extent.”

Earlier in the season, the Red Bulls were in dire straits, and their two key players went AWOL. Guevara, the league’s MVP in 2004, was in a war of words with general manager Alexi Lalas and then-coach Mo Johnston and was fined $4,000 for leaving the field and sitting in the stands after being substituted. And Djorkaeff was spotted attending a World Cup game in Germany when he was supposed to be nursing his sick mother in France.

Lalas and Johnston are gone now, and since the arrival of coach Bruce Arena, Guevara has been on his best behavior while Djorkaeff seems rejuvenated at 38. The French 1998 World Cup winner may have only scored two goals but his 59 shots rank behind only Buddle’s team-leading 65.

Guevara, who earned recent MLS Player of the Week and Player of the Month honors, has scored six of his eight goals this season in the last five games.

“His ability to hold the ball, passing, combining that with Youri, makes us a little different because we certainly have not been the best passing team,” Arena told the New York Daily News.

All this doesn’t bode well for D.C. United, which is coming off a three-game losing streak and in need of a morale-boosting win.

“The playoffs are a whole different story. so you wipe the slate clean and start all over,” said defensive midfielder Brian Carroll, who will have the task of dealing with Guevara. “Whatever we have to do to win we will do.” Carroll is United’s iron man this season, logging more minutes than any other player.

History, however is against the Red Bulls. The team has the worst franchise playoff record of all eight teams in the playoffs and has never played in a championship game. United has won four MLS titles.

“Even though they barely made the playoffs, they have Bruce Arena as coach,” warned United midfielder Josh Gros.

Arena knows his team needs a victory at Giants Stadium, because United lost only three games at home this season.

“Bruce knows all about this team, and we know him,” Olsen said of the former D.C. and national team coach. “That’s what makes this such a sexy series.”

Good combination — If there’s a bright side to United’s recent struggles, it’s the combination work between Freddy Adu and Christian Gomez . Although United lost its last game to Chicago 3-2 at RFK Stadium, Adu set up two great goals for Gomez.

“I have good chemistry with Freddy, and you have seen it throughout the season,” Gomez said. “We understand each other very well, but the only thing on my mind is the game against New York [today].”

Adu, who has a career-high eight assists, has scored only 11 goals in his career, but two have come against the Red Bulls. The 17-year-old hopes he has the freedom today to run at the Red Bulls’ defense.

“I feel much more comfortable playing in the middle of the field,” Adu said. “That’s where I’m at my best. Hopefully, I can keep my side of the bargain going, and hopefully everybody else does, too.”

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