- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 28, 2007

Amid reports that D.C. United is courting talented Argentine midfielder Juan Sebastian Veron and other prospects from Argentina, here’s how the team’s other Argentine imports have fared:

• Christian Gomez was a great signing. Last season’s MLS MVP, Gomez had 14 goals and 11 assists in 2006. In 2004, when Gomez joined the team in midseason, he helped lead United to the MLS title.

• Defender Facundo Erpen, who joined United in August 2005, made the MLS All-Star team last season. But surprisingly, the 24-year-old Erpen was traded to the Colorado Rapids last month for 33-year-old defender Greg Vanney.

• Striker Lucio Filomeno, who was signed a week after Erpen, found little success with United. He played in just one game in 2005 and 11 total, totaling a goal and an assist. He was not happy with his playing time and returned home in 2006.

• Midfielder Matias Donnet was the biggest bust. He was signed last August and played in eight games (seven starts), scoring one goal. His option was not picked up.

“Christian has definitely had the most success and Facundo was an All-Star,” United technical director Dave Kasper said. “Donnet could play in this league but needed more time, and Lucio was just coming on. He wanted to leave, but we were willing to give him more time.”

According to reports in the Argentine press, United president Kevin Payne has had talks with Veron, who recently resurrected his international career and played for Argentina at the Copa America.

“We go after Argentine players because they are very professional, technically good and will die for their shirt,” Kasper said. “Let’s face it, all the big clubs in Europe now have full-time people living in Argentina studying the players there because there’s so much talent.”

Veron, nicknamed La Brujita (the little witch) is a free agent now that his contract with Chelsea has expired. The 32-year-old is well-traveled, having played for nine clubs, including Manchester United, Chelsea, Lazio and Inter Milan.

Signing Veron would be a major coup for United. However, the enigmatic Argentine playmaker has not always lived up to the expectations and has left a legacy of mixed impressions.

Because of David Beckham’s move to the Los Angeles Galaxy, more foreign players want to move to MLS, according to Kasper.

“The Beckham signing has opened the door for all of us,” Kasper said. “There are lots of agents reaching out to us, and we are getting a lot more contacts.”

Iraq success — Iraq’s journey to the final of the AFC Asian Cup is an inspiring story, but it will have to get by favorite Saudi Arabia tomorrow in Jakarta, Indonesia, for the title.

Iraq reached the final after beating South Korea 4-3 in a penalty kick shootout Wednesday. This is the furthest the Iraq has advanced in the tournament after making it to the semifinals in 1976.

Coached by Brazilian Jorvan Vieira, the team includes members of all of Iraq’s major ethnic communities, and every player on the roster has had relatives killed or injured during the war.

Fans in Iraq could not escape the conflict. Two suicide bombers killed 50 people and injured 130 others who were celebrating the historic win.

Under Saddam Hussein, Iraqi soccer players often were tortured. Hussein’s oldest son Uday, who was head of Iraq’s National Olympic Committee, had players beaten and imprisoned for losing games or missing penalty kicks.

South Korea, which was seeking its first title since 1960, plays Japan in the third-place game today in Indonesia.

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