- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 16, 2009

Not much has come easy for D.C. United this season. The club sits atop the Eastern Conference, just a point ahead of Toronto FC, after a number of nail-biting wins and disappointing ties. Now United faces its toughest foe, Chivas USA, in a clash of division leaders on the road Saturday night.

Chivas won both meetings against United last season, a 3-1 win at home and 3-0 victory at RFK Stadium.

“Anytime we play Chivas in L.A., it’s a tough one,” United midfielder Clyde Simms said.

Chivas has opened up an eight-point lead in the Western Conference and has won all five games on its home turf at Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif.

“Chivas has done a great job in their home games,” United coach Tom Soehn said. “They are organized and disciplined and will punish you for your mistakes. They do a great job at winning balls in the middle of the park and starting the attack.”

The game likely will be decided in favor of the team that controls the midfield. United might have an advantage here - Chivas’ star midfielder, Sacha Kljestan, was suspended because of his accumulation of yellow cards.

“Winning the midfield will be the key,” Simms said. “We should have the numbers with the formation we play to do that. We need to play smart and not throw too many numbers forward and not be susceptible to their counterattacks.”

United (3-1-5, 14 points) is unbeaten in its past five league games. Chivas (7-1-1, 22 points) boasts a league-high seven wins, with a lone loss at Toronto.

“It will be our toughest challenge so far,” defender Dejan Jakovic said. “Preki is a good coach. I remember him when he played at Red Star [Belgrade]. He has done well in MLS.”

United has played some heart-stopping soccer in recent games, scoring late goals to earn vital points.

It took a penalty kick by Jaime Moreno in the 92nd minute to salvage a tie with Toronto FC last Saturday at RFK Stadium. United scored two goals in the last two minutes of play to beat the Red Bulls on the road 3-2 last month, and Ben Olsen’s injury-time goal earned the club a point against the New England Revolution in a 1-1 tie nine days earlier at RFK.

“The fact that we are fighting back and not giving up is huge,” Simms said. “It’s tough giving up goals late. We don’t want to become one of those teams that does that because after a while it becomes a mental thing and you’ll be on edge near the end of a game.”

Ties galore - It’s remarkable how many games are ending in ties this season.

D.C. United, which earned just four draws all of last season, already has recorded five in just nine games this year. The Chicago Fire and the Los Angeles Galaxy each have earned six ties in eight games. The Columbus Crew, meanwhile, have five in eight games.

In all, seven teams in the 15-club league have earned more ties than wins.

“Every team is getting better in this league, and you can see it in the tight games,” United midfielder Clyde Simms said.

The Championship - We know the English Premier League gets all the attention, but the Championship attracts some notice of its own.

The Championship, a division below the EPL, is the fourth-most watched league in Europe, beaten out only by the Premier League, Germany’s Bundesliga and Spain’s La Liga. Games in the Championship averaged attendance of 17,891 in the 2008-09 season.

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