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United keyed up for Galaxy showdown

Despite gap in performance this season, DC ready to take on LA

WASHINGTON – The Home Depot Center sits half an hour’s drive from Hollywood – more than twice that at rush hour, of course – and Carson, Calif., doesn’t offer quite the same vibe as its posh northern counterpart.

But D.C. United’s latest trip to Los Angeles figures to offer up more than enough drama for the capital club, featuring a reunion with Bruce Arena – the first, and most decorated, coach in United history – and his league-leading Galaxy in front of a national television audience on Fox Soccer Channel.

Then there’s that whole Beckhamania thing.

David Beckham made his MLS debut at RFK Stadium three years ago. He scored his first-ever Galaxy goal in a SuperLiga match against United later that season. And now, a week after his first appearance since tearing his Achilles tendon while on loan to AC Milan last spring, everyone is waiting to see if Arena allows the world’s most recognizable player to play a bigger role against DC on Saturday night.

“Look, the only thing I would say about that is, that when a guy like that comes back, he bring a certain amount of energy to a team, whether it’s more fans, more hype on the game,” United interim coach Ben Olsen said earlier this week. “And most times it brings the best out of them. So we need to be prepared for, first and foremost, a battle.”

Olsen inevitably plays down his own place in these sorts of storylines, but he’s undoubtedly eager to inspire his last-place team to a strong performance against the Galaxy. Arena coached him at the college, pro and international levels and even brought him under his own roof when Olsen joined United in 1998 as the league’s first-ever Project 40 (now Generation Adidas) prospect.

But with Landon Donovan, Edson Buddle & Co., “The Bruce” can call on far deeper reserves of talent than his former protégé and United know the task will be far more difficult than last week’s 1-0 win in Toronto.

“Well, the makeup of their team is different, especially the forwards,” acknowledged Olsen. “It’s no surprise that they’ve got some special guys up there. They can make big plays and Landon, he’s fast – I haven’t watched him in a couple games but I’m assuming he’s still lightning-fast. So we’ve got to take care of him and be smart about our [defensive] line.

“But again, I think we’re really focusing on ourselves, and growing and doing the things that we do better. And then you can hope for a little luck and get a result.”

Olsen seems to be leaning towards keeping two defensive midfielders in the center of the park to contend with the biting presence of United alumnus Dema Kovalenko and the playmaking skills of Juninho. But the main question, the one which has dogged DC all year, lies in the front line’s ability to find the net against the second-best back line in the league.

“I love playing on that field,” said Santino Quaranta, who will probably wear the captain’s armband on Saturday. “[LA] play the right way, they work hard, they have a lot of good players. If you can’t get up for that game as a player, something’s wrong. And it’s going to be a fun game for us because we don’t have anything to lose.”