Disgruntled United ready for Wizards
WASHINGTON - The defending MLS champions are stuck in fifth place in the Eastern Conference, and unsurprisingly, they're not pleased.
"We are not very happy with the results we've had," said D.C. United head coach Peter Nowak heading into this Saturday's second MLS Cup 2004 rematch of the season against the Kansas City Wizards. "We know that we are better than the standings."
In last week's nationally-televised showdown with the first-place New England Revolution, D.C. United controlled much of the play, delivering a measured, intelligent performance that was marred by only one real defensive breakdown. Unfortunately, Revs strikers Pat Noonan and Taylor Twellman seized on that opportunity to combine for the game's only goal and win Eastern bragging rights for their squad - for now.
So it's a determined D.C. squad that is preparing for Saturday's visit by the Wizards. In the first meeting between the teams three weeks ago at Arrowhead Stadium - their first encounter since United's 3-2 victory in last year's MLS Cup Final - they played to a dour scoreless draw.
But the Black-and-Red have made their RFK Stadium home a fortress of late, compiling a 10-3-5 record since the beginning of last season, and the team is focused on restoring its confidence - and conference standing - in those friendly confines.
"We always want to make our home strong, a very difficult place to play," said Nowak. "We have a very special relationship with our fans. They appreciate a good game and good play. This is very important for our confidence. I hope my team is prepared mentally and physically for this game - we're going to go for the three points."
Rookie Clyde Simms, whose efficient play as holding midfielder has earned him a call-up to the U.S. national team, is prepared for another chess match with the Wizards.
"It'll be a good, defensive game, like the one in Kansas City," he said. "We know how they play, more of a defensive-type team, but we can't get frustrated and be left vulnerable in the back."
If Nowak feels compelled to add some steel to his side for this important match, he may turn to recent injury returnees Bryan Namoff and Dema Kovalenko, who have already stepped up the intensity on United's training ground as they look to regain fitness quickly.
"Absolutely. I think Dema and Bryan bring us another dimension," said Nowak. "Bryan is one of the players with experience who can bring something special with his runs, because fitness is always a very strong part of Bryan's game.
"Dema is always very emotional on the field - he has this mentality that we are all trying to implement in this team, this competition. Dema is one guy who can really push the people around him. We are very excited to get him back."
Kovalenko's aggressive, high-energy style has made him equal parts hero (to RFK crowds) and villain (to opposing fans). He's determined to lift his teammates to a higher level as he returns to action.
"It's too easy to play us right now," he said. "Even if we lost a game last year, we fought to the end, we competed for every ball. Right now it's not the case. That's something we've practiced all week.
"We know what we need. We've lost a lot of points - we're 11 points behind New England. We've got to catch them up, and we definitely like to defend our home. I think this weekend we're going to show that. We have to get points at home."
Charles Boehm is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.