- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 14, 2007

RFK Stadium has never looked so comforting for D.C. United’s players.

After two crushing losses on the road, United plays host to the Kansas City Wizards in its home opener tonight.

Following a morale-draining defeat by Guadalajara Chivas in Mexico, plus last week’s dismal performance against the Colorado Rapids, United’s players and coaches are relieved to be back on home turf.

“We’ve had the course of the season in the preseason,” coach Tom Soehn said. “It’s great to come home. The guys were all drained as well as the staff.”

Before the loss to the Rapids, United was on the road for more than two weeks, training in isolation in Mexico and then losing on April 3 in the CONCACAF Champions’ Cup.

“The loss in Chivas was hard to accept because we put a lot in to that,” Soehn said. “We wanted to make sure that we gave everything we had, and I think we did. But it was mentally draining. I could tell it was a letdown afterwards, and we tried everything we could, but you could see the team as a whole was just flat. There wasn’t too much we could do to change it because we tried.”

It was expected that with four intense and competitive Champions’ Cup games under its belt, United would be in good form when it met Colorado. Instead, the team looked dreadful in the cold conditions.

“We didn’t think our performance was where it should have been based on how we played against Chivas at such a higher level,” defender Bryan Namoff said. “To come and not perform in that first game was a bit of a letdown. We can make a number of excuses, but at the end of the day we just didn’t show up.”

Against Colorado, United failed to play its trademark possession game and created few chances. The team had problems winning the ball on the flanks, and Brazilian striker Luciano Emilio got little service. When he did, on a fine cross from substitute Kasali Casal, he scored a goal. Brazilian midfielder Fred still seemingly is trying to figure out where he fits, and Soehn hopes a week of training at home will help the new signee understand the United system.

“The loss in Mexico did have an effect on us, but we have to put in behind us and carry on,” United goalie Troy Perkins said. “Take it for what it’s worth, but we were on the road for three weeks, and Colorado is a tough place to play. After that game we realized the season had started.”

United is 6-2-3 in home openers. The club’s only two home opening losses have come against the Los Angeles Galaxy, 2-1 in 1996 and 4-0 in 2000. United has opened twice at home against the Wizards — in 1998 and 2001 — winning both times.

In last season’s home opener, United rallied from two goals down to tie the team now known as the New York Red Bulls 2-2. A crowd of 24,000 is expected for tonight’s match, which will be the team’s first regular season home game under its new ownership group.

“I think a dose of home cooking will do everyone some good,” Soehn said.

Kansas City arrives under new coach Curt Onalfo, a former United coaching assistant who knows United’s brand of soccer. The Wizards are kicking off their season at RFK. It will be interesting to see whether Onalfo can reignite the career of forward Eddie Johnson, who scored only two goals last season while commanding the league’s third-highest salary at $875,000.

“[Johnson] can change a game, so we will focus on shutting him down,” Soehn said.

The Wizards signed Argentine playmaker Carlos Marinelli this week, but he is not match fit.

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