- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 2, 2006

D.C. United has scored a league-high 41 goals this season, but lately the offense has dried up.

The Eastern Conference leader has found the back of the net just five times in its past five regular season games and it won’t get any easier when the club travels to face Chivas USA tomorrow.

Chivas has the best defense at home this season, giving up a miserly eight goals in 12 games at Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif. And the team added more strength to its back line this week by acquiring veteran Mexican defender Johnny Garcia, 28, from the team’s sister club Chivas de Guadalajara.

“It’s the way teams are playing us,” United striker Alecko Eskandarian said. “Teams are playing four, sometimes five people in the back, and as a forward there’s just nothing you can do. I don’t care how talented you are. You could be Ronaldinho up there but if the team has four or five defenders there’s not much you can do. So someone else has to step up sometimes and take the pressure off.”

Eskandarian, United’s third leading goal scorer with seven in 19 games, has not scored since a 1-1 tie at the Chicago Fire on July 22, but it’s not for trying. Eskandarian has recorded the most shots this year with 51 attempts and is tied for the lead in shots on goal with Jaime Moreno at 27.

“I’ve definitely been guilty of trying too hard,” Eskandarian said. “That’s been a bit of a problem, especially when you are down a goal right at the start of a game. You want to get back so bad that you do too much.”

Eskandarian notched 10 goals in 24 games in 2004 — his best season with United — but missed most of last year after suffering a serious concussion.

Meantime, vastly improved Chivas has made Home Depot Center a tough place for visiting clubs, recording five clean sheets there, which is a far cry from last season when the expansion team gave up 30 goals at home — the worst in the league. D.C. beat Chivas 2-0 at RFK Stadium in April in its second game of the season.

“In the last couple of games we have to tip our hats to the way teams have been defending against us by hunkering down and not giving us any space at all, and we’ve been letting them do that,” Eskandarian said. “There are ways we can counter that and punish them, but we haven’t been doing that in the last couple of games.”

In the game against Chivas, United’s players hope to put last week’s 5-2 loss to the Los Angeles Galaxy at RFK before a season-high 24,519 behind them.

“That’s a good gauge of what teams are going to look like towards the end of the season,” United midfielder Ben Olsen said. “They are going to come flying and their best players are going to play hard.”

United, 0-2-3 in its last five league games, can become the first team to clinch a spot in the playoffs this weekend with a win over Chivas or a Kansas City tie or loss against the Galaxy today. The club hopes to get some help from Argentine midfielder Matias Donnet, who was signed last week and could make his first league appearance tomorrow.

Notes — United will honor members of its inaugural 1996 MLS Cup championship team at the club’s Sept. 23 match vs. the New York Red Bulls. …

English club West Ham United pulled off a stunning coup when the team signed Argentine World Cup stars Carlos Tevez and Javier Mascherano from Brazilian club Corinthians just hours before the transfer window closed on Thursday. The Hammers beat out Manchester United and Arsenal to sign the talented duo of 22-year-olds.

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