United begin challenging road swing
WASHINGTON -- D.C. United departed on their longest -- and perhaps most demanding -- road trip of the season on Monday afternoon, a week-long, transcontinental journey that should provide head coach Tom Soehn and his men with some useful indicators of their collective progress as the season's midpoint approaches.United climbed back into first place in the Eastern Conference with last weekend's 2-1 victory over Chicago, but they must now play eight of their next 10 league matches on the road, an arduous stretch that kicks off with Wednesday night's highly-anticipated clash with Seattle Sounders FC. Then the Black-and-Red will fly directly to Colorado for a Saturday meeting with the Rapids, a fixture D.C. have not won in nearly a decade."The sign of a good team is being able to do it on the road, and with a little adversity, I think," said Santino Quaranta on Monday. "Going into Seattle, it's not going to be easy and it's the same with Colorado. But we're looking forward to the challenge."Presently occupying third place in the West with 20 points, Sounders FC have thus far defied the conventional wisdom regarding expansion sides' performances. Head coach Sigi Schmid has assembled a talented squad headlined by designated player Freddie Ljungberg and Fredy Montero, the young Colombian who has been one of the revelations of the 2009 campaign to date.United are more familiar with the hard-working midfielders who've provided the stable foundation for those attacking talents to prosper. A pivotal member of USL-1 side Charleston Battery at the time, Cuban holding midfielder Osvaldo Alonso impressed in last year's U.S. Open Cup final at RFK Stadium and Columbus Crew alumnus Brad Evans put the final nail in United's playoff hopes with the game-winning strike in D.C.'s regular-season finale at Crew Stadium."It should be a good battle. They've got some good midfielders in there who like to mix it up," said United holding midfielder Clyde Simms. "I know Evans from Columbus, he makes some good runs out of the midfield...He scored a good goal at the end of the season against us. He's a tough player - that'll be another challenge for us."But the most impressive aspect of Seattle's MLS launch has surely been the packed, raucous environment to be found on match days at Qwest Field. That support -- an average of 29,401 fans per game -- has powered Sounders FC to a 4-1-3 record on home turf. D.C. veterans can also vouch for the stadium's deafening acoustics, having played out an entertaining international friendly there against Real Madrid in front of 66,830 three years ago.But despite those menacing statistics, United are eager to experience Qwest's ambiance again, just as they have noted the manner in which visiting teams feed off the passion their own home fans exude at RFK."It's a great environment to go play in. Some might think it's hard. I actually think it's fun for our team," said Soehn. "I think the environment that brings out the best in you. So we're excited to play in that."Soehn and his staff have traveled with a larger-than-usual player contingent in anticipation of the longer trip's demands, but one attacking mainstay won't be flying west. Jaime Moreno tweaked a hamstring against Chicago and with D.C. idle on the weekend of June 27, the Bolivian striker will look to heal in time for his club's July calendar.That absence places Luciano Emilio in the limelight. United's Brazilian frontrunner returns from a red-card suspension on Wednesday night and will be eager to end a four-match scoring drought, during which time Moreno has drawn level with him in the goal charts at five goals apiece. Though last week he admitted to feeling some pressure in that department, Emilio sounded a bullish note after Monday's training session."Last game was a good win and we have big motivation," said Emilio. "These two games away are going to be good for our team if we get good results. I think the team is motivated."