- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 27, 2009

In its two-week break from MLS action, D.C. United chalked up a list of positives. The club won two international games, scored four goals, earned two shutouts, rested a number of veterans and saw key players move off the injury list. All this should bode well for United on Sunday when it takes on the San Jose Earthquakes at RFK Stadium in a critical game.

“I feel we are slowly finding our identity,” United midfielder Ben Olsen said. “We are starting to understand our roles out there, and it’s a good time to be doing that. Now it’s about going out on Sunday and proving it.”

With four MLS games remaining, United controls its own playoff fate - but a loss to San Jose could leave the club in real trouble. Entering Saturday, United (8-6-12, 36 points) was clinging to the final wild-card berth.

“We are close to being in the playoffs and close to being out,” said defender Marc Burch, who is listed as probable for Sunday’s match after missing time following ankle surgery.

United is coming off a morale-boosting 3-0 win over Honduran club CD Marathon in the CONCACAF Champions League on Thursday. Key defender Dejan Jakovic played 15 minutes in the game after a three-week absence following surgery for a sports hernia. Striker Luciano Emilio scored twice and may have found his shooting shoes again, and Josh Wicks earned his second shutout in as many games. The only blotch on United’s radar is the absence of veteran defender Bryan Namoff, who is out with a concussion.

Olsen cautioned not to read too much into the win over Marathon.

“I hope we don’t get too high,” Olsen said. “We certainly need to forget about that and focus on what will be a much tougher opponent.”

On paper, United should have no problem with the struggling Earthquakes. San Jose (5-12-7, 22 points) is the second-worst team in the league and has not won a road game this season.

“San Jose has nothing to lose,” Olsen warned. “They are at that point in the season where they can play free.”

The Earthquakes, while not technically out of the playoff hunt with six games remaining, have their eyes on next season.

“Those guys are fighting for their jobs,” United coach Tom Soehn said. “We are fighting for points - vital points.”

Forward Jaime Moreno and defenders Jakovic and Avery John could receive substantial minutes in Sunday’s game because they are suspended for Wednesday’s Champions League game at RFK.

United is coming off its first MLS home loss this season, a 2-1 defeat to the Seattle Sounders on Sept. 12. San Jose arrives on the heels of consecutive 1-1 ties with the Colorado Rapids. The Earthquakes handed stoppage-time penalty kicks to the Rapids in both games.

Note - This will be former United midfielder Bobby Convey’s first visit to RFK since he left to play in England in 2004. Convey played five seasons with United, competing in 89 games and recording eight goals and 16 assists. He joined San Jose this season after playing for Reading in England for five seasons.

“It will be good for Bobby to step back on RFK,” Olsen said. “There’s always extra excitement when he plays D.C. United because of his past, so we will expect the best from the little punk from Philly.”

Convey has a goal and two assists in 20 games (19 starts) for San Jose.

• John Haydon can be reached at jhaydon@washingtontimes.com.

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