- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 3, 2006

With D.C. United having secured both the Supporter’s Shield — the honor awarded to the team with the most points in regular season — and home-field advantage in the playoffs, the last two games of the season might appear meaningless. But the players feel differently.

“So far we have accomplished what we set out to do and put ourselves up in a good position for the playoffs, but there is some tweaking needed,” said United midfielder Brain Carroll, who has played the most minutes for a field player this season. “We need to work on our possession game, creating chances and keeping those clean sheets.”

United plays its last two games of the regular season at home, against the New England Revolution on Saturday and the Chicago Fire on Oct. 15. United hasn’t held an opponent scoreless since playing to an 0-0 tie with the New York Red Bulls on Aug. 6 — nine games ago.

“We need to get that hunger and sharpness back,” midfielder Ben Olsen said. “I think you see it coming back with the recent win over New York and the solid performance we put in against Houston even though they got a lucky break with a goal.”

United’s players did not practice yesterday. Instead they worked on a new water training program, involving a hydro-therapy session at a local health club. The team will do this every Tuesday through the playoffs to rest the players’ legs while raising their heart rates.

The team is coming off a tough 1-0 loss at the Houston Dynamo. It looked like United would leave Texas with a well-earned point on Saturday until Houston’s Brian Ching scored a stunning bicycle-kick goal with just four minutes left.

“It was easy to swallow that defeat knowing that we had won the Supporters’ Shield,” Carroll said.

United officially earned the Shield and the opportunity for international games in the CONCACAF Champions Cup next year, after FC Dallas — United’s only contender in the race — lost 3-1 to the Columbus Crew.

“Don’t get me wrong, the playoffs are important and we want to win, but winning a place in the CONCACAF Cup is huge,” Carroll said. “The way MLS works is that winning the MLS Cup is the big thing, but in the rest of the world, it’s all about what you do in the regular season and we have done that and won it already.”

United will face either the New York Red Bulls or the Kansas City Wizards in the two-game Eastern Conference semifinals beginning on the road on Oct. 22.

“We just need to tighten our ship and fine-tune what we are all about,” Olsen said.

And there’s still something to play for in the next two games. United (15-5-10, 55 points) is three points shy of its highest single-season point total in club history. In the 1998 season the team earned 58 points (24-8 record — seven shootout wins).

United would like to avoid an end like last year’s regular season when it recorded a loss and tie at RFK Stadium, before losing in the playoffs to the Chicago Fire in a 4-0 home loss following a scoreless road tie.

Notes — Another D.C. United alumni is moving to the New York Red Bulls front office. Former United star defender Jeff Agoos, 38, will become the Red Bulls technical director beginning next year. He will join former United coach Bruce Arena and assistants Richie Williams and John Hakes — both former United players. …

United forward Robert Ssejjemba has been called up by the Ugandan national team, as Uganda prepares for its upcoming match against Niger on Oct. 7. … The team is collecting clothes throughout the month of October. Donations can be left at Gate A on game days.

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