3. MLS COUNTDOWN: United shoulders high expectations

By Ridge Mahoney
Senior Editor

The strengths of D.C. United are many and all too familiar, so how can it fail to win a fifth league title?

Past history tells the tale. D.C. was probably the best team in 2005 as well as last year, when it finished 15-7-10. In neither case it reached the final, losing to Chicago and New England, respectively. Those teams didn't win the title, either. Stuff happens.

A new head coach, a couple of aging veterans, a staggering schedule of league and international games and a back line yet to be anointed cast some doubt on D.C.'s chances. Yet as United showed during the CONCACAF Champions Cup in preseason, its personnel is surely the class of the league. A new ownership group is grafted onto a tradition of success.

It trained in Mexico for more than week to prepare at altitude not only for the second leg of its CONCACAF Champions League semifinals against Guadalajara, but its MLS opener Saturday in Colorado (TV: ABC, live, 3:30 pm ET).

Head coach Tom Soehn, who served three seasons as Peter Nowak's assistant before being named to replace him, says, "I always think that D.C. is the cream of the crop. I've been here the last three years helping to build this team, and some of our young guys are ready to take their opportunity and run with it."

There will have to be younger legs at the ready if the cream is to rise to the top and stay there through November. With SuperLiga in addition to domestic competitions on the horizon, United will play more than 40 competitive matches this season.

Midfielder Ben Olsen's penchant for grabbing jerseys and scrambling to recover is no secret, and he may see time on the right side as well as in the middle, so Clyde Simms will likely play more than the 1351 minutes in 24 games he logged last year as a central partner for Brian Carroll.

"As we increase scheduling and more tournaments come, it's important for teams to get deeper and survive by using the whole team," says Olsen, who could also be juggling national team duty this season. "I think Tommy understands that better than anyone I know."

Soehn wants significant showings from second-year pros Stephen deRoux, Rod Dyachenko and Devon McTavish. In the D.C. culture, rookies contribute while they learn, and everyone else is a veteran expected to produce consistently.
Last season, Jaime Moreno played every game and started all but one. Despite fading late in the season, he still put up 11 goals and 10 assists. Yet in 270 playoff minutes, he logged one assist, and D.C. scored only two goals.

To punch up the attack, United signed two Brazilians, Luciano Emilio and Fred, and a former Nigeria under-20 international, Kasali Yinka Casal. Emilio is 28, Fred is 27, and Casal is still a teenager. Consider the mathematical possibilities.

Emilio lit up the CONCACAF Champions Cup with impressive strikes, and Fred adds another creative element to that of 2006 top scorer Christian Gomez (14 goals, 11 assists). Fred is first choice on the right side of midfield but can also slide into a forward position.

Casal won't be 20 until October, but by then, the 6-foot-1, 175-pounder who comes to MLS from the Fulham FC reserve squad will have made an impression, sometimes literally. He's powerful and fast.

Fred is the straight-swap replacement for Freddy Adu, who was dealt to Real Salt Lake after three years of decent contributions but only marginal improvement. Emilio takes the forward slot vacated by Alecko Eskandarian, sent to Toronto after scoring seven goals and suffering another in a series of concussions.

Defender of the Year Bobby Boswell and keeper Troy Perkins anchor a defense that conceded 38 goals, third fewest last year in MLS. D.C.'s attack led the league with 52 goals, but everything fizzled out in the 1-0 Eastern Conference final loss to New England.

"People say we tanked in the playoffs against New England," says Olsen. "We didn't tank it. Taylor Twellman scores a great goal [in the fourth minute] and we spend the rest of the game controlling the play. We just couldn't score. It happens that way sometimes, but the way we finished the season, after running away with it from April to August, makes us that much more determined to not let it happen again."


1 Troy Perkins (D.C. United)
22 Jay Nolly (Real Salt Lake)
40 Shawn Crowe (FIU)

5 Facundo Erpen (D.C. United)
12 John Wilson (D.C. United)
18 Devon McTavish (D.C. United)
21 Stephen deRoux (D.C. United)
26 Bryan Namoff (D.C. United)
32 Bobby Boswell (D.C. United)
3 Bryan Arguez (U.S. under-17 residency)
6 Kasali Yinka Casal (Fulham, England)
7 Fred (Melbourne Victory, Australia)
8 Justin Moose (D.C. United)
10 Christian Gomez (D.C. United)
14 Ben Olsen (D.C. United)
15 Rod Dyachenko (D.C. United)
16 Brian Carroll  (D.C. United)
17 Josh Gros (D.C. United)
19 Clyde Simms (D.C. United)
24 Jeff Carroll (D.C. United)
11 Luciano Emilio (Olimpia, Honduras)
13 Brad North (Northwestern Univ.)
23 Jamil Walker (D.C. United)
99 Jaime Moreno (D.C. United)
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