United begin tough stretch in Kansas City
WASHINGTON -- D.C. United have made steady strides in recent weeks, as demonstrated by a four-game unbeaten streak in all competitions that has pushed them to the top of the Eastern Conference standings. But the club's calendar poses new challenges to that progress with a stretch of five matches in 19 days beginning with Wednesday's road test against the Kansas City Wizards, themselves owners of a 3-1-1 record over the past month.With their last-second victory against New York on April 26, United snapped an 11-game losing streak in road matches that dated back to last August and Tom Soehn's side are keen for further success on their travels. Meanwhile, after an 0-2 start the Wizards have improved to the point that a win on Wednesday would see them move into first place in the East."Every game is important in the Eastern Conference. Kansas City's doing all right, but everybody's really close, so three points makes a big difference," said D.C. defender Marc Burch. "So going out there and trying to get a win is really important."But Burch is one of several United mainstays who won't make the trip west, as he and midfielders Ben Olsen and Fred will stay in Washington for fitness and recovery work ahead of Saturday's clash with Toronto FC at RFK Stadium. Burch has been nursing a sore ankle of late and the left back's absence will likely hand newcomer Avery John his United debut."It's not like we're going to drop our level of play, because we've got guys that can fill right in," said Burch. "You always want to get in the game and make an impact and get your team a win, but sometimes you need rest, because there's a lot of games this year."The Black-and-Red attack has looked quite lively of late, although blunt finishing has at times kept the scoreboard from reflecting the full extent of the side's creativity. Logging time at striker, winger and attacking midfielder, Santino Quaranta has been a notable ingredient in that dynamism and he believes that an offensive explosion is imminent."You're looking at four or five goals in the first half of a game. We're getting a lot of chances created, a lot of chances," he said after Saturday's 2-1 win against FC Dallas. "How long can you keep going that way? How long does that keep happening, you keep getting so many chances and not finishing the game off? Because it's too much quality in this team."Greater opportunism would prove particularly useful in away settings, where the margin for error inevitably shrinks and United in particular tend to restrain their forward-leaning instincts in favor of a more cautious approach. With an industrious midfield providing support for the canny front line of Claudio Lopez and Josh Wolff, the Wizards possess the speed and imagination to exploit any gaps in D.C.'s 3-5-2 formation."I like Kansas City. I think they have a good, hard-working team, a hard-working midfield," said Clyde Simms. "They have those couple of players that can hurt you in Lopez and Wolff, even players like Davy Arnaud and [Jack] Jewsbury coming out of the midfield."With Olsen left at home, Simms will likely be joined by Andrew Jacobson in a deep-lying midfield role and their attentiveness will be a key factor in closing down Arnaud, who has proved to be one of the most dangerous long-range shooters in MLS thus far this year. To complicate matters, D.C. will have to adjust to the snug dimensions of the pitch at CommunityAmerica Ballpark, where time and space are often closed down in a flash."Kansas City's not an easy place to play. On that field, I feel like it's a little bit smaller and it's definitely going to be a battle. It's a big game and three points would be huge right about now," said Simms. "So it's definitely going to be a challenge but I think with the last couple of games going our way, we take that confidence going into the next game. I think we'll do well."