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Suddenly surging United bullish about Crew trip

Onalfo's group looks to climb the table in the East

WASHINGTON – With the World Cup hiatus behind them, D.C. United are optimistic about continuing their summer revival in this weekend’s visit to Columbus for a meeting with the first-place Crew.

A newfound confidence now surges through a side that looked dead and buried a month ago, and United believe they can extend their six-game unbeaten streak in all competitions on Saturday night. A newfound confidence now surges through a side that looked dead and buried a month ago.

After giving their players a brief break upon return from Seattle two weeks ago, Curt Onalfo and his staff kept the squad busy with lively training sessions and a friendly match against El Salvador.

“We want to build off of what we’ve been doing here,” said Santino Quaranta on Wednesday. “We’re not far out of being into some contention here –we hit these next couple of games, we get a few points and we’re looking pretty good. There’s plenty of games left, we’re getting a lot of guys back [from injury]. There’s a lot of challenges for Curt to pick the [starting] 11, so we’re doing well.”

The past month has brought a transformation of mentality as a succession of victories, even those in friendlies, have cleared the mental funk that lingered over a team long stuck in the MLS basement.

“We’ve done a good job of staying positive. Of course there’s some days in there where the last thing you want to do is come in [to training] – I mean, you want to come in and train to get better, but after being 0-7, 0-8, it was tough for a little bit,” midfielder Clyde Simms said. “But guys are starting to believe in themselves and believe in each other, offensively and defensively.”

Quaranta has prospered since moving from midfield into a second striker’s role and many of his teammates have similarly benefited from a period of tactical and positional stability that was often lacking in the spring.

“We have worked a lot on our shape before we hit this little streak and I think that’s helped us a ton,” Simms said. “Teams are having a harder time breaking us down, we’re giving up less chances and now I feel like it’s gotten to the point where guys know where they’re supposed to be when the ball is in a certain spot on the field.”

Simms has crafted an effective central partnership with Stephen King since the latter’s arrival from Seattle. But in the Crew’s Guillermo Barros Schelotto, the duo have a different sort of challenge this weekend as United look to better the quality performance of their last trip to Ohio, a 1-1 draw on July 4, 2009.

“Yeah, he’s one of those players for Columbus who makes them go, for sure,” Simms said. “They’re a different team when he’s on the field and on top of his game. Last year we did a good job of shutting him down and we had a good result there because of it. We think he’s the key to their team and we’ll definitely have an eye on him the entire game.”

Columbus’ Argentinean maestro thrives in the space in front of opposing defenses and is given few defensive responsibilities, meaning that Simms and King will have to track him diligently in order to keep the United back line from being stretched by the wide running of Eddie Gaven and Robbie Rogers.

“They like to attack,” Quaranta said of the Crew. “Schelotto seems to run that team with Gaven and Rogers on the outside. They’re a talented team but if we go in with the right mentality, I feel like there’s three points there for sure.”