RFK MEMORIAL STADIUM
7:30 pm ET (CSN-DC; FSN-BA)
If the MLS Cup Playoffs began today, defending champion D.C. United would be on the outside looking in. That's the bad news. The good news is they're just three points out of third place, and their record is marginally better than it was at the halfway point a year ago - before a late surge sent them into the final. But a true challenge awaits: the San Jose Earthquakes currently sit in second place in the Western Conference and haven't lost in seven matches, a streak that began when these two teams played to a scoreless draw at Spartan Stadium in the first weekend in June.
REFEREE: Terry Vaughn. SAR (bench): Kermit Quisenberry; JAR (opposite): Richard Eddy; 4th: Andrew Chapin
MLS Career: 53 games; FC/gm: 31.6; Y/gm: 3.8; R: 13; pens: 17
Games involving United: P7 W2 L2 T3; FC/gm: 31.7; Y/gm: 3.3; R: 2; pens: 1
Games involving Earthquakes: P12 W6 L4 T2; FC/gm: 35.6; Y/gm: 4.8; R: 4; pens: 3
INJURY REPORT: D.C. UNITED - OUT: DF Bryan Namoff (hip flexor strain); DF Tim Merritt (plantar fasciatis); DF David Stokes (ankle sprain); PROBABLE: FW Alecko Eskandarian (concussion); FW Jaime Moreno (ankle sprain); DF Kenny Arena (ankle sprain) ... SAN JOSE EARTHQUAKES - OUT: DF Craig Waibel (R knee torn ACL/LCL); DF Troy Dayak (L knee torn ACL); FW Brian Ching (R hamstring strain); QUESTIONABLE: DF Ryan Cochrane (L hip pointer)
INTERNATIONAL ABSENCES: DC: MF Ben Olsen; FW Santino Quaranta (USA; CONCACAF Gold Cup) ... SJ: MF Brad Davis (USA; CONCACAF Gold Cup)
WARNINGS: SJ: Danny Califf (20 CP); Ricardo Clark (16 CP)
This is the second and last of two scheduled league meetings between the clubs this season, the only one set for RFK Stadium.
ALL-TIME (23 meetings): United 8 wins (0 shootout), 37 goals ... Earthquakes 11 wins (3 shootout), 34 goals ... 4 draws
AT RFK STADIUM (11 meetings): United 6 wins (0 shootout), 23 goals ... Earthquakes 5 wins (2 shootout), 16 goals ... 0 draws
Both teams struggled to maintain any attacking flow as they battled to a scoreless draw at Spartan Stadium on June 4 at Spartan Stadium, a second consecutive scoreless draw at home for the Earthquakes.
The home side nearly gave away a goal in the opening minute on an errant back pass, but like nearly every quality chance on the night, it missed the target as neither 'keeper was really tested on the night - though San Jose defender Eddie Robinson did slide in to deflect a shot from United's Ben Olsen that seemed sure to find the back of the net.
Here's Dominic Kinnear's team (4-3-1-2): Pat Onstad - Chris Aloisi, Danny Califf, Eddie Robinson, Wade Barrett - Mark Chung, Ricardo Clark, Brad Davis - Dwayne De Rosario - Ronald Cerritos (Julian Nash 79), Alejandro Moreno
Here's Peter Nowak's team (3-4-1-2): Nick Rimando - Bryan Namoff (John Wilson 74), Bobby Boswell, Brandon Prideaux - Joshua Gros, Brian Carroll, Ben Olsen, Dema Kovalenko (Alecko Eskandarian 79) - Christian Gomez - Santino Quaranta (Jamil Walker 85), Jaime Moreno.
Last year, the teams split their season series, each winning once at home with one draw. The teams opened the season at RFK Stadium on April 2, United coming back to claim a 2-1 win (Moreno 12, Eskandarian 39 - Ekelund 19 pen)
The next two matches were played at Spartan Stadium. On May 1, they played to a 1-1 draw (Dayak 33 - Kovalenko 66), then on Aug. 7, the Earthquakes claimed a 2-0 victory (Mullan 17, De Rosario 82)
United haven't won in San Jose since a 4-0 victory on June 3, 1998, a span of eight matches. The Earthquakes have won four of those (one by shootout), with draws in the other four.
The Earthquakes have won six of the last 12 meetings in the series since Aug. 19, 2000. United have won three in that time, with three draws.
Coaches record: Peter Nowak v SJ: P4 W1 L1 D2 ... Dominic Kinnear vs. DC: P4 W1 L1 D2
The Kansas City Wizards hadn't won a league match in Washington since Aug. 4, 1996 - though of course they did win MLS Cup 2000 at the ground.
It was a classic smash-and-grab mission for the Wizards, who soaked up pressure throughout the match before capitalizing on a United mistake 13 minutes from the end. Sasha Victorine picked off a pass and was allowed time and space to run at the United defense, but letting fly with a low shot from just outside the area that escaped the dive of Nick Rimando.
United boss Peter Nowak made two changes to the team that knocked off the Columbus Crew 1-0 at Crew Stadium the previous weekend. Jaime Moreno suffered a knock during the week's training and Nana Kuffour returned to the substitutes' bench, with Clyde Simms coming back into the team in a midfield role and Jamil Walker as the spearhead of the United attack, with Freddy Adu taking a more advanced attacking role.
Here's Nowak's team (3-4-2-1): Nick Rimando - Brandon Prideaux (David Stokes 84), Bobby Boswell, John Wilson - Dema Kovalenko, Brian Carroll, Clyde Simms (Matt Nickell 80), Joshua Gros - Christian Gomez, Freddy Adu - Jamil Walker (Nana Kuffour 59).
"We made a fundamental mistake leaving ourselves open at the end of the game," said Nowak. "I think we have another lesson to learn. We still have to be patient with the ball, and we have to score the first goal. We didn't do it today, and one mistake cost us the game."
D.C. United followed a win with a loss for the second consecutive time, losing at home to the Kansas City Wizards for the first time in nearly a decade, a late goal giving the visitors a 1-0 victory at RFK Stadium on Saturday evening. United are now in fifth place in the Eastern Conference with 22 points from 16 matches, two out of the final playoff spot behind the MetroStars and eight ahead of last-place Columbus Crew.
Moreno failed a pre-match fitness test on the ankle injury suffered during the week before the Wizards match. He is listed as probable for this Friday's game.
"Jaime is a big part of this team," said goalkeeper Nick Rimando. "He holds the ball for us really well, he's a leader, and I think on the field, he picks everybody up. We missed him today."
That meant a start for Adu in a more advanced role than usual. "It was different," said the U.S. youth international. "I don't think I've played a game without Jaime since I've been a pro. I was given the role that he plays most of the time, and I thought I did a pretty good job in handling that role. I got a taste of what he goes through, and it's not easy. You expend a lot of energy playing that role. I've just got to keep working on it."
Despite the loss, United pointed to the fact that their record was not much different than it was at the midpoint of a year ago - when they went on to the MLS Cup championship. United were 5-6-5 after 15 games of their 30-game season a year ago; this year United are actually slightly better with six wins and four draws in 16 matches.
"It's going to come," he said. "It's the midpoint of the season and we're still working, and hopefully just like last year, we peak at the right time. We got our goals last year at the end of the season, we got our wins at the end of the season. I don't think there's need to worry now. Eventually we're going to click defensively and offensively."
Media reports said United is close to reaching agreement with central defender Facundo Erpen, currently with second division Talleres de Cordoba in Argentina. Also with experience in the Boca Juniors youth scheme, Erpen is 22 years old and considered a player with good technical ability, strong and with a lot of energy. He is also very good in the air, a good header of the ball in both his own end as well as in the opposition's danger area.
On Monday, United defeated the Rochester Raging Rhinos of the USL First Division (second tier) 3-2 in a friendly before a sellout crowd in Cary, N.C., behind a hat trick from Jamil Walker. Walker scored in the 15th, 21st and 68th minutes, before the Rhinos pulled goals back from Greg Howes and Mauro Carbajal.
Here's United's team on the night: Troy Perkins (Andrew Webber 46), Clyde Simms, Bobby Boswell (Tim Sahaydek 64), Jason Thompson, Nana Kuffour, Brian Carroll (Nick Van Sicklen 67), Shawn Kuykendall, Freddy Adu (Gus Karterouliotis 46), Steve Guppy (Eric Quill 59), Jamil Walker, Matt Nickell.
SAN JOSE EARTHQUAKES
The Earthquakes had never won a league game in Crew Stadium, and hadn't beaten the Crew on their own ground in a regular-season contest since July 20, 1996. They did win MLS Cup 2001 at Crew Stadium - where they beat arch-rival Los Angeles Galaxy, along the way defeating the Crew in Columbus in the MLS Cup Playoffs.
Center back Chad Marshall gave an early sign the streak might be continued, heading home a corner kick after 19 minutes for his first career MLS goal. He beat Eddie Robinson to reach David Testo's service and saw his header come down off the underside of the crossbar and spin back out onto the field, but it was adjudged to have crossed the line.
But just 11 minutes later the Quakes pulled level through Robinson, who shook off Marshall to reach a Ronald Cerritos free kick whipped in from the left corner and head home the equalizer.
Cerritos then scored the match-winner just after the hour. Ricardo Clark and Alejandro Moreno played a neat one-two, Clark rounding the defense at the byeline before laying a pass back for Cerritos who sent a first-time shot home from the heart of the area (63).
Earthquakes head coach Dominic Kinnear made one change to the team that played to a 2-2 draw with FC Dallas at the Cotton Bowl the previous Saturday. Center back Danny Califf was suspended after being sent off, meaning Kelly Gray moved inside and Wes Hart was given his first start of the season, at right back.
Here's Kinnear's team (4-4-2): Pat Onstad - Wes Hart, Kelly Gray, Eddie Robinson, Wade Barrett - Brian Mullan (Ian Russell 81), Ricardo Clark, Danny O'Rourke, Mark Chung - Alejandro Moreno (Julian Nash 85), Ronald Cerritos
"I am real proud of the guys tonight. It was great that they came back and scored right away just like last week in Dallas and we played better in the second half," Kinnear said. "Columbus played well and put pressure on us but I think that we adjusted well and we were very efficient in our finishing today."
The San Jose Earthquakes extended their unbeaten run to seven matches, winning for the first time in Columbus in nearly a decade, getting a late goal to claim a 2-1 victory against the Crew on Saturday night. The Earthquakes now have 28 points from 17 matches, taking over second place in the Western Conference three points ahead of the Los Angeles Galaxy, now trailing first-place FC Dallas by six points.
Robinson was able to overcome a hamstring strain to play in the match in Columbus, and his turnabout to score the equalizer after he was beating for the Crew's goal was lauded by Kinnear.
"It has been a great year for him both defending and with the ball at his feet. When he does make a mistake, it doesn't bother him," said Kinnear of his central defender. "I think in the past he took it a little too personal. I think now he tunes into the game for the full 90 minutes."
San Jose has not lost since May, a span of seven matches. It was the second match of the season in which the Earthquakes have won after surrendering the first goal, and Kinnear loves his club's desire to fight back from a deficit.
"I think the one good thing is our response when teams score against us," said Kinnear. "It is a very confident group and I think they believe in each other. They don't want to let each other down."
After Canada were eliminated following the group stage in the CONCACAF Gold Cup, midfielder Dwayne DeRosario will join the Quakes for the United match. However, Kinnear isn't expected to make any changes to his team for the United, with the exception of Danny Califf returning to central defense from suspension.
"I told the guys to try not to play high balls into the forwards. I also told Ricardo (Clark) to push a little closer to the forwards so we could win some more of the knockdowns," Kinnear said. "I felt like our passing was better when we did that and we started working the ball a little bit more. Ricardo did a good job for us in there."
The Earthquakes picked up the historic victory despite being outshot 14-5. However, they showed more quality in front of goal than their opponents. "We know that this is a really hard city to come to and play," said Cerritos. "It was very difficult to play against them because they needed the result. It was a huge win in this stadium."