- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Through its years of success, D.C. United has built the reputation of having one of the best home-field advantages in MLS.

That reputation has taken a beating in recent weeks. United has dropped three straight matches at RFK Stadium for the first time since 2000 - including a listless, 2-0 loss to Chivas USA on Saturday that dropped the club further out of the playoff picture.

United (8-8-12, 36 points) sits two points behind the New England Revolution for the final wild-card berth. The club has just two league games remaining, while the Revolution have three matches to earn points and maintain separation in the standings.

“Our playoff hopes are slim now,” United coach Tom Soehn said after Saturday’s loss. “We’ve dug ourselves a major hole. Now we’re looking at everybody else, but in the end, we still have to look at ourselves and find a way to dig ourselves out again.”

United could be passed in the standings by two teams before its next match. Toronto FC (35 points) and Real Salt Lake (34 points) each will have played twice - including one game against each other - before United kicks off at RFK against Columbus on Oct. 17. United ends the regular season at Kansas City on Oct. 24.

“Each game there’s still something to play for,” midfielder Ben Olsen said. “We need to make sure we’re putting the work in, and with that outside shot, we still need to try and sneak in.”

United will be without two key contributors for its home finale against the league-leading Crew. Olsen (red card vs. Chivas) and Chris Ponitus (yellow-card accumulation) will be serving suspensions. Soehn again will have to juggle a lineup that never has been completely set this season because of roster and formation changes, a busy schedule and myriad injuries.

Such inconsistencies appear to have impeded the team’s success.

“The rhythm [on the field] isn’t there because we haven’t played two games in a row with the same [lineup],” captain Jaime Moreno said.

Wicks suspended

The U.S. Soccer Federation on Monday suspended United goalkeeper Josh Wicks an extra four U.S. Open Cup games for the red card he was issued during the second half of the tournament final Sept. 2 at RFK.

The penalty was extended beyond the standard one-game misconduct suspension because Wicks stomped Seattle forward Fredy Montero, refused to leave the field in a timely manner and used inflammatory language to insult an official.

The final suspension is a total of five Open Cup tournament games (preliminary-round games excluded) and can carry over to the 2011 competition. United played four tournament games, including the final, in this year’s competition.

Wicks, who is out with shoulder and knee injuries, has until 5 p.m. Tuesday to appeal the ruling.

James gets his chance

After playing 90 minutes against Chivas, Julius James boarded a plane Sunday bound for his native Trinidad and Tobago to join the national team in training for its final two World Cup qualifiers.

The Soca Warriors travel to Costa Rica on Saturday and then host Mexico on Oct. 14. The defender, who has earned three senior team caps since 2008, had not been selected during the team’s current World Cup campaign. Trinidad and Tobago is in last place in the final round of CONCACAF qualifying.

“I’ve been waiting to get called for the longest while - all year,” James said in a heavy island lilt. “We have a saying in Trinidad. It says, ‘What hasn’t missed you, hasn’t passed you.’ It basically means what is for you, you will get - but you mightn’t get it when you want to but when the time is right.”

James will not miss any games for United because of the break in the schedule. He has made nine starts since joining United from Houston on Aug. 14.

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