United see Galaxy match as must-win
WASHINGTON -- Winners of just one league match over the last two months, D.C. United slipped further down in the MLS playoff race this week and lost their first CONCACAF Champions League group match under exasperating circumstances in San Pedro Sula, Honduras.It was only the latest in a series of letdowns for a squad which has all too often been unable to convert its substantial talent into winning results this season. As a consequence, the simmering frustration inside the D.C. locker room has approached the boiling point ahead of Saturday's pivotal meeting with the LA Galaxy -- a match which has now attained "must-win" status as United seek to turn their faltering campaign in the right direction before it runs off the rails entirely."We need to stand up," said veteran defender Avery John on Friday. "We have to take accountability before anything else happens and to me, this is rock bottom. A couple of games we've lost, tied -- it's just unacceptable right now. We really need to put things together, get organized, and put in a good performance and get some results."To pile on further suffering, the team's demanding travel schedule has apparently provoked a bout of bronchitis among the coaching staff: Mark Simpson was diagnosed early in the week and head coach Tom Soehn had to leave RFK Stadium early on Friday, heading home for bed rest as he struggled with similar symptoms.It hardly seems like the most auspicious moment to play host to the league's hottest team, who themselves have lost just one league contest in the past two months as former United coach Bruce Arena has crafted a winning formula just one year after his arrival on the West Coast."Bruce has a knack for mixing experience in with good young talent and he has found a 'keeper that I think he believes in and trusts," said Simpson, who played under Arena during his triumphant tenure in the nation's capital. "They're disciplined and that's what you'll see from Bruce's teams: they're always disciplined and he never likes to get stretched out. ... They just word hard for each other. They're good pros."Meanwhile, United are racing to fully integrate several new faces like defenders Julius James and David Habarugira into the squad, and it's not even certain what formation they will employ against the Galaxy. United swapped their traditional 3-5-2 shape for a 4-5-1 setup in Tuesday's Champions League match against CD Marathon, handing debut starts to James and Habarugira in the process, and the approach worked surprisingly well as D.C. controlled the tempo for long periods only to be undone by a handful of individual mistakes.The Galaxy will bring a menacing arsenal of attacking talent to RFK and United's staff might decide that a four-man back line is the best way to limit the danger posed by David Beckham, Landon Donovan and company."I think when you're playing a 3-5-2, sometimes it doesn't define your roles as much and sometimes guys get caught in between, especially if they don't have experience in playing those roles," said Simpson. "You can try to tell guys to push higher in different spots, but if they're apt to think more defensively then you're not going to get them in starting positions that you would like them to."While no one at RFK is about to push the proverbial panic button, there is a palpable sense of urgency as players and coaches consider the number of points that they've already dropped as they find themselves in the midst of a very tight playoff race.The lessons of last season also linger. A year ago the Black-and-Red climbed into first place in the Eastern Conference by midsummer, only to crash spectacularly as injuries and the rigors of international play prompted a long, painful fade that left United watching the postseason from home."Definitely everybody's angry," said team captain Jaime Moreno when asked about his team's collective mentality. "But hopefully that anger will transfer to the field and we'll show more character. I think we've lacked concentration the last few games and that's what we need to do better -- concentrate for 90 minutes."We know how critical this time is right now but at the same time I don't panic, because I know that we do have potential in this team, it's just that it hasn't worked our way."