Short-handed D.C. in search of answers

United face Fire without four key regulars at RFK

Humbled, frustrated and now short-staffed to boot, the D.C.United back line is awkwardly positioned to attempt a rebound this week.

United are missing two defensive starters and a holdingmidfielder to long-term injuries, while one crucial center back was felled byhamstring troubles last week. Yet another faces a red card suspension forSaturday’s meeting with the Chicago Fire at RFK Stadium.

Yet winless D.C. simply must stop the bleeding at the backin order to vanquish the three-game losing skid that threatens to ambush theirentire season.

“We know that we need to get some things accomplished this weekend,”defender Carey Talley said Wednesday. “So I think a lot of people are mentallytuned in and guys that aren’t in the top XI right now are looking very good.They’re champing at the bit to get their chances right now.”

Like his teammates, the veteran defender is well aware thatno one on a winless squad can truly feel safe in his position. United finalizedthe signing of SuperDraft selection and local product Jordan Graye this weekand fellow reserves Lyle Adams and Barry Rice may get a longer look if thecurrent struggles continue.

Head coach Curt Onalfo lamented a “lack of concentration incrucial times” after last week’s 3-2 setback to the Philadelphia Union, andaccountability has become an increasingly hot topic.

But the club’s selection woes – and the importance of asteady performance against Chicago’s Premiership-tested strike duo of BrianMcBride and Collins John – mean that Saturday’s lineup practically picksitself.

The seasoned Juan Manuel Pena will miss the next few matchesas his hamstring heals, and Dejan Jakovic will be a spectator at RFK after hisred card in Philly. So Talley has become the clear choice to move centrallyalongside Julius James, the young Trinidadian who is raring to stake his claimfor a starting job after an uneven spring thus far.

Devon McTavish has apparently recovered sufficiently from anagging groin injury to take over right back duties from Talley, and RodneyWallace remains the top option at left back.

It’s a patchwork crew and certainly one the forward-leaningFire possess the tools to exploit, but United prefer to approach the situationas an opportunity rather than a crisis, and hope the heavy lifting takes placefurther upfield.

“I think Julius and Carey are capable guys filling in. They’veplayed there before,” assistant coach Mark Simpson said. “For us, we have totreat it as business as usual, and still be attack-minded and be able to goforward and put teams on their heels, put pressure on them.”