Saturday, October 4, 2003

Just when it looked like D.C. United coach Ray Hudson finally had the lineup he needed for a successful run to the playoffs, the body blows came. Within four days Hudson lost goalie Nick Rimando and veteran midfielder Ben Olsen to serious knee injuries.

“Let’s call it what it really is,” the exasperated Hudson said Thursday. “This is a nightmare scenario for us, and it comes just when we were building momentum. The whole season has lurched from one controversy to another controversy. It’s really very dispiriting and there’s just no preparing for it.”

United (10-9-7, 37 points) visits the Columbus Crew (8-11-7, 31 points) with a depleted team tonight as it begins the drive to add seven points in its last four games and assure a playoff spot. The club also will be without defender Mike Petke and midfielder Dema Kovalenko who picked up yellow cards Sunday and are suspended.

“We’ve got players to step in but let’s get real — these guys are just stand-in players,” Hudson said. “The players we have lost are the real columns of the team.”

In a 2-0 victory against the MetroStars on Sept.25, Rimando tore his left ACL in the 78th minute after he stepped awkwardly. Last Sunday, Olsen banged his knee three minutes into a 1-1 tie with the MetroStars at RFK Stadium, spraining his MCL. Before their injuries, Olsen and Rimando were the only players to have started every game this season.

It was a particularly tough blow for Olsen, who was finding his form after two bleak years with an ankle injury. He missed the entire 2001 season and much of 2002. This year Olsen was having a team MVP season. He was tied with Marco Etcheverry for the club’s points lead at 15 with four goals and seven assists. All of Olsen’s goals have been game-winners, and United is 14-0-0 when he scores.

“The kid has been out two years and is getting his true footballing skills again and then he gets cut down,” Hudson said. “It’s devastating.”

Rimando tore up his knee 50 minutes short of the MLS record for consecutive minutes played, set at 6,066 by Peter Vermes.

Eliseo Quintanilla (three goals, four assists) will fill in for Olsen tonight, and rookie Doug Warren will man the nets. Already this season, United has lost key players in defender Milton Reyes (ACL) and forward Santino Quaranta (minor knee surgery).

“Just when the sun was beginning to rise for this club, a hurricane rolled in,” Hudson said. “But we are absolutely driven. This season will come down to the wire.”

To be fair, other clubs have lost key players. The Dallas Burn are without Jason Kreis and Ronnie O’Brien; the MetroStars lost Jaime Moreno and New England was without key striker Taylor Twellman for several games. However, United seems at times to have been cursed this year, what with injuries and locker room personality clashes.

“Hearts have been put through the wringer on different levels,” Hudson said. “We are being severely tested.”

Adu update — According to a British paper, English Premier League club Chelsea will know “within weeks” whether the team has beaten out giants Arsenal and Manchester United to sign 14-year-old phenom Freddy Adu of Potomac. Said Adu’s agent, Richard Motzkin: “We’re in negotiations. We expect this to be concluded soon.”

Adu was added to the U.S. under-20 team this week as it trained for the World Youth Championship in the United Arab Emirates from Nov.27 to Dec.19.

Looking ahead — Qualifying games for the 2006 World Cup in Germany begin for the 34 CONCACAF teams, including the United States, the weekend of Jan.17-18, 2004, and end Nov.12 and 16, 2005.

Women’s World Cup notes — Message to ESPN: Heather Mitts is a darn good defender and a very charming woman but hopeless in the TV studio. Former American star Tisha Venturini-Hoch, on the other hand, is just as good with a microphone as she was at heading the ball. …

Only two of the U.S. team’s 12 goals have come in the run of play; the others all came from set plays. Five of the American goals have come off corners, three off free kicks and two from penalty kicks. …

FIFA, soccer’s governing body, accredited 2,243 members of the media for the Cup, including 642 from the print press. … One of the U.S. team’s unsung heroes has been defender Kate Sobrero, who has shown some great defensive work in the left back role.

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