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Hope springs eternal in D.C.

United look for a rebound against injury-ridden Revs

After a long, cold and incredibly snowy winter, spring has finally arrived in the nation’s capital.

And has hordes of tourists descend on the Cherry Blossom Festival on the National Mall, another group makes the first pilgrimage of the season to RFK Stadium, where D.C. United kick off their 2010 home calendar against the New England Revolution.

After a long, cold and incredibly snowy winter, spring hasfinally arrived in the nation’s capital.

And has hordes of tourists descend on the Cherry Blossom Festival on the National Mall,another group makes the first pilgrimage of the season to RFK Stadium, where D.C.United kick off their 2010 home calendar against the New England Revolution.

But apprehension has already threatened early-seasonoptimism in some quarters of Black-and-Red nation, thanks to last week’s 4-0 trouncingin Kansas City. D.C. is left with something to prove to themselves as well asto the fans who are not sure quite what to expect from new boss Curt Onalfo andhis young side.

“I think it’s just ammo as far as motivation for the guys torecover quickly, and to show that we’re much better than the way we showed onSaturday night,” assistant coach Kris Kelderman said.

The history of this well-seasoned rivalry suggests D.C.should be able to seize the initiative on home turf, but creativity, focus andfinishing ability will nonetheless be required in far greater levels than wereshown against the Wizards.

Both teams are significantly affected by injuries, but overthe years New England coach Steve Nicol has proved adept at plugging new facesinto his system with limited loss of defensive continuity. United expect theRevolution to defend in numbers and wait for opportunities to counterattack onthe home side’s unsettled defense, which will already include multiple changesfrom last weekend.

“They’re always a tough, physical team," said D.C. goalkeeperTroy Perkins. "I don’t thinkthey’ve really changed that much since the league began. They’ve got the same type of approach to games and they’re toughto play against. So they’ll probably sit in and look to counter on us and getballs wide, a lot of crosses.”

That should give the Black-and-Red an opening to controlpossession and craft more effective passing moves in the attacking third, butit may also test the back line’s discipline and organization. The multiplebreakdowns seen in Kansas City were none too flattering for the D.C. back line,but Onalfo and his staff believe that the debut of Bolivian center back JuanManuel Peña can inspire a much improved display at RFK.

A longtime veteran of the Spanish league, Peña will look tosort out his new team’s communication issues and add a different dimension withhis passing out of the back.

“He’s a good leader and he’s experienced,” Kelderman said of Peña. “He’s not only a technical player, but he offers a lot of vocal help toeverybody on the field, so he’ll be a nice addition. We expect him to be readyand able to go.”

Pena will likely partner with Dejan Jakovic in the middle,flanked by Rodney Wallace and Carey Talley out wide. With New England boastingseveral speedy options up top and on the wings, they’ll need to mind theirspacing and provide alert cover for one another when possession is lost. Thefoursome has had limited time to gel as a unit, but United’s injury crisis hasdrastically limited Onalfo’s options and excuses are of limited use at thispoint.

“Stuff like that certainly plays a role, but in this leaguewe’ve seen that guys have to step in at any time," said Perkins. "So we’ve got to take that responsibility toourselves to be ready and be prepared to step in."