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United yearn for victory over Houston

By: Charles Boehm / MLSnet.com

WASHINGTON, DC -- The 2009 season has barely begun, but D.C. United are already feeling impatient for a victory as Western Conference powerhouse Houston Dynamo visit RFK Stadium on Saturday night.United have played well in their first two matches, only to fritter away leads in back-to-back draws against Los Angeles and Chicago. It's a habit they're eager to put behind them as they prepare to battle one of Major League Soccer's elite clubs."Indeed, they are one of the best teams in this league, very, very tough to play against. We are aware of the challenge that is ahead of us," said D.C. goalkeeper Louis Crayton. "We are at home, we have the advantage and I hope that we can come away with the win on Saturday, to put us at five points instead of drawing [again]."With the offseason trade of Dwayne De Rosario to Toronto FC, Houston coach Dominic Kinnear has tweaked his attack a bit, handing a bigger role to up-and-coming U.S. international Stuart Holden. But United expects to see the same direct, high-tempo approach the Dynamo used en route to back-to-back MLS Cup championships in 2006 and 2007."The way Houston plays has been the same for years, so you kind of know what they bring. Whatever piece is in there, you know what they're trying to accomplish," said D.C. head coach Tom Soehn. "I think you focus more on the team tactics than you do on whether it's DeRo or Stuart playing in that spot."Crayton is one of several players working to prove their readiness to Soehn, who might face a number of selection headaches in the weeks ahead as a host of injured veterans return from the training table.Crayton's preseason quadriceps strain opened the door for his understudy Josh Wicks to start the team's first two games, but now Wicks himself has sustained a hip flexor injury, so the veteran Liberian looks set to make his season debut this weekend.Meanwhile, central defender Greg Janicki has gradually eased his way back into full workouts this week after suffering a forehead laceration and concomitant concussion in Week 1. He hopes to play a role against Houston, as does the teammate he collided with, Devon McTavish.Brazilian winger Fred may also suit up on Saturday, though probably not as a starter. He says his hamstring strain has healed, but admits that he's some way short of full fitness."It's good, I'm just trying to be careful so I don't re-aggravate it," he said on Wednesday. "I feel fine as far as the injury, I just know I'm not in my 100 percent shape so that's why I'm trying to do extra exercising and extra training to get to that point where I'm in shape again."His creativity off the bench might be needed against Dynamo, still regarded as one of the league's stingiest defensive units despite surrendering three goals to the San Jose Earthquakes last week. Former D.C. standout Bobby Boswell anchors a veteran back line that is traditionally hard-nosed, compact and organized -- and effective against United. D.C. has scored just three goals in its last six meetings with Houston and was twice shut out by the Orange in 2008."We're facing another team like Chicago who's been around for a while, and used to the way they play," said Soehn this week. "But again, it's good for us, going through these organized teams early. I think it really is going to define us, especially for later in the season."United forward Luciano Emilio believes that he and his likely strike partner Jaime Moreno can unlock the Dynamo defense with quick passing and intelligent movement, a task which could be easier if rookies Chris Pontius and Rodney Wallace can continue to provide width along the flanks."We have a positive atmosphere right now," said the Brazilian hitman, who opened his 2009 account with a well-struck goal against Chicago last week. "[The Dynamo] are hard, I think the best defense of MLS. But I think we can work hard and move the defenders. I think we can score goals on Saturday and win this game."