- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 23, 2007

Even with a playoff spot secured, D.C. United still has plenty of business left to attend to as it enters the final five games of the regular season.

The next task for United (15-6-4, 49 points) is to clinch the Supporters Shield, awarded to the team with the most points in the regular season. The Shield would guarantee United home-field advantage in the playoffs as well as a berth in the prestigious CONCACAF Champions Cup.

“The Supporters Shield is the next thing to strive for and our new motivational tool,” defender Bryan Namoff said.

United can take a step in that direction and add to its nine-game (8-0-1) unbeaten streak in league play when it visits the desperate Chicago Fire today.

“We don’t want to rely on any other teams results to help us,” Namoff said. “We want to do it all ourselves and claim the home-field advantage for the postseason.”

The playoffs take on added meaning for United this year because the MLS Cup will be played at RFK Stadium on Nov. 18.

“Our goal is to have home-field advantage all through the playoffs, and we are the only team that could do that,” midfielder Josh Gros said. “I would take us against anybody at RFK.”

United won the Shield with 55 points in a 32-game season last year. If the club wins all its remaining games, United could claim the Shield with 64 points in a 30-game season.

“Right now everything is aligned for us, and we need to take advantage of the situation and just keeping winning,” Namoff said.

United enters today’s game without Christian Gomez, Ben Olsen and Fred, who all are suspended after accumulating yellow cards. The three key midfielders combined to earn 20 goals and 19 assists this season.

United coach Tom Soehn is upset about the number of yellow cards his team has received.

“We need to focus on our game and keeping our mouths shut,” the coach said.

To replace his missing midfielders, Soehn likely will bring in Brian Carroll to join Clyde Simms in the midfield. He also can use Rod Dyachenko or bring in forward Guy-Roland Kpene, who is still looking for his first goal. Jaime Moreno could play in Gomez’s attacking midfield role.

“It’s obvious we have some big shoes to fill for the Fire game,” Gros said. “We have the advantage of depth and have about eight guys who we can bring into the starting lineup without dropping our level.”

And it won’t be easy going to Chicago, which is fighting to stay in the playoff race.

The Fire (8-10-7, 31 points) tenuously holds the eighth and last playoff spot, with the Colorado Rapids (7-10-8, 29 points) and the Columbus Crew (6-9-10, 28 points) just behind.

Since United beat the Fire 3-1 at RFK in June, Chicago has added international stars Cuauhtemoc Blanco of Mexico and Paulo Wanchope of Costa Rica to its roster.

“Chicago is better with all the changes and we have a tough time playing there,” Gros said. “They have a must-win game for their playoffs lives and we have just as much at stake, to stay in first place.”

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