- The Washington Times - Friday, October 6, 2006

D.C. United has received plenty of praise this season. With two games left in the regular season, the team (15-5-10, 55 points) has a chance to earn the most points in team history, eclipsing the 58 points it earned in 1998. To its credit, United has claimed a berth in the 2007 CONCACAF Champions Cup and earned home field advantage through the playoffs.

But as the postseason looms, the team still has one glaring flaw: its habit of giving up late goals.

“All season we’ve had trouble with late goals and the responsibility starts with me and then moves up through the field players,” United goalie Troy Perkins said. “We’ve got to buckle down at the end of games and make sure the scoreline stays as it is.”

United has recorded only five losses this year, but all those defeats came with the team giving up goals in the last 30 minutes. The problem was highlighted in the loss at the Houston Dynamo last week. After playing a solid second half in the scoreless game, it looked like United would steal a point, until an unmarked Brian Ching scored on a brilliant bicycle-kick with four minutes left in regulation.

“You don’t see goals like that very often in our league. That was a world-class strike,” United coach Peter Nowak said. “I would prefer giving up goals like that, rather than from bad decisions, or from lack of concentration at the end of the game.”

In United’s last 10 games, the team has given up 16 goals and 10 of those were conceded after the 60-minute mark.

“Those type of things happen because of a lapse in your mental judgement as you start to break down physically near the end of games,” United defender Bryan Namoff said. “That little lapse could result in a late goal and that could be the end of the playoffs, so we have to remain sharp.”

In its first loss of the season in May, the Colorado Rapids’ game-winner came in the 84th minute. United gave up goals to Real Salt Lake in the 90th and 91st minute in July in its next loss after a 14-game unbeaten streak. The team also gave up three goals in its next defeat and only loss at home, allowing the Los Angeles Galaxy to score in the 66th, 71st and 92nd minute on Aug. 26. And last month, United lost with the lone goal scored in the 61st minute at the Chicago Fire.

“Look, we’ve been talking about this, but the solution is make sure we win on the offensive side of our game, to get the edge by scoring the first goal,” Nowak said.

Another trouble spot for the team is that four of United’s five losses this season have come in the last 10 games.

“Lately we lost confidence and an air about us,” Perkins said. “But we are starting to get it back. You can see it in training with players getting a little chippy, which is good.”

Meanwhile, Nowak wants his players to face the last two games of the regular season with the same excitement they had in the final days of the preseason.

“We have two weeks to work on things just like the preseason and we need to get that excitement back,” Nowak said. “The playoffs are a whole new beginning.”

Tonight at home against New England, United will be without defenders Facundo Erpen and Josh Gros, who are both serving suspensions.

National team — The U.S. men’s team is expected to receive an invitation to play in the 2007 Copa America tournament, South America’s championship, which will be held in Venezuela from June 26 to July 15. The U.S. team played in the 1995 event in Uruguay, where it won its group with a surprising 3-0 win over Argentina, and reached the semifinals before losing to Brazil.

Meanwhile, the search for a new national team coach to replace Bruce Arena continues.

Sunil Gulati, the president of U.S. Soccer, said this week that he has narrowed his search down to four or five serious candidates who are based overseas and will make a decision sometime next month.

“If we don’t have a national team coach who is very familiar with the American setup, then we will have an assistant coach who is,” Gulati said.

Former national team coaches Juergen Klinsmann (Germany), who lives in California, Sven Goran Eriksson (England) and Jose Pekerman (Argentina), have been linked to the job along with MLS coaches Peter Nowak (D.C. United), Bob Bradley (Chivas USA) and Frank Yallop (Los Angeles Galaxy).

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