- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 28, 2009

In D.C. United’s opener the club’s rookies were impressive, but coach Tom Soehn will get a better sense of where his team stands when the Chicago Fire come to town Saturday night.

The Fire began their season with a 3-1 win on the road at FC Dallas last week. Brian McBride and Mexican ace Cuauhtemoc Blanco both got on the score sheet.

“Chicago is pretty much returning with the same guys from last season, so they will be ahead of everybody else,” Soehn said.

There’s no love lost between the Fire and United these days - especially when Blanco plays.

“It’s always going to be feisty,” Soehn said.

United will be without defender Greg Janicki and midfielder Devon McTavish, who suffered head injuries in a collision in the 2-2 tie with the Los Angeles Galaxy on Sunday.

“These days with head injuries, you side with caution,” Soehn said.

The games between the conference rivals Fire and United last season were physical contests.

United lost 2-0 at home in the first match in April last year. On the road in June, United won 2-1 in a game that featured nine yellow cards and the ejection of United defender Bryan Namoff.

In a U.S. Open Cup game in July, Blanco and United defender Marc Burch were ejected after a tussle. Blanco also head-butted a venue official on the way off the field.

The teams last met in August, when United again won on the road in a game with eight yellow cards - seven issued to United players.

“There’s definitely an accumulation of yellow and red cards when we play Chicago,” Namoff said.

“There’s a nice intensity between these teams with quite a bit of history,” United midfielder Ben Olsen said.

Playing like a veteran, rookie Chris Pontius scored a goal in the Galaxy game and is looking forward to facing the Fire.

“On the goal I scored, I couldn’t believe I had so much space,” Pontius said. “I was waiting for someone to close me down.”

The Fire’s defense might not be as generous as the Galaxy’s rebuilt back line, which leaked the most goals in 2008. The good news for United’s attack is that the Fire will be without starting defenders Bakary Soumare (Mali) and Gonzalo Segares (Costa Rica), who will be with their respective national teams in World Cup qualifiers.

Goalie Josh Wicks and defender Dejan Jakovic both started against the Galaxy in their United debuts. Wicks likely will start again if Louis Crayton can’t play. With Janicki out, Jakovic could move into the central midfield role - his preferred position - and Marc Burch could play on the left.

On Friday, United acquired the rights to Colorado Rapids midfielder John DiRaimondo, 22. The Rapids released him Wednesday.

World Cup - It’s a big week in World Cup qualifying.

The U.S. national team, coming off a 2-0 home win over Mexico, travels to El Salvador in the final round of CONCACAF group play Saturday.

Brad Guzan, who came off the bench to replace the red-carded Brad Friedel in the 64th minute of Aston Villa’s 5-0 loss at Liverpool, could replace the suspended Tim Howard in the nets.

On Wednesday, the U.S. team plays host to Trinidad and Tobago at LP Field in Nashville, Tenn.

Some of the notable games in Europe on Saturday: Portugal faces a crucial game against Sweden in Group 1, unbeaten Spain welcomes Turkey in Group 5, and surprise team Lithuania hosts struggling France in Group 7. Unbeaten England hosts Ukraine in Group 6 on Wednesday.

If David Beckham gets to play in England’s friendly against Slovakia on Saturday, he will set a record for a field player for appearances for the national team, overtaking Bobby Moore (108). He will become second on the all-time list behind goalkeeper Peter Shilton (125).

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