In Arena's N.Y. Debut, D.C. Again Is Sluggish

August 17th, 2006  
Team Infidel

Topic: In Arena's N.Y. Debut, D.C. Again Is Sluggish

United 0, Red Bulls 0

By Steven Goff
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, August 17, 2006; E01

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J., Aug. 16 -- D.C. United has done a fine job enhancing its international reputation in recent weeks, but the club's domestic campaign has suddenly run into trouble.
Sluggish on attack and lacking rhythm, United had to settle for a 0-0 tie against Bruce Arena and the New York Red Bulls on Wednesday night before an announced crowd of 11,230 at Giants Stadium, running its MLS winless streak to three games.
"What you saw today was us on an off day," said midfielder Ben Olsen, whose team was shut out for the first time this season. "We weren't sharp, our passing wasn't good. . . . They seemed like they really wanted to win this game. They went after us, and we've got to get used to that because every team is going to do that against us at this point."
Although it is well on its way to winning the Eastern Conference's regular season title, United (13-2-7) has stumbled to two ties and a loss -- all on the road -- and, along the way, has scored just twice.
The attack stirred a bit in the first half and nearly produced a game-winner during injury time when reserve Jamil Walker's shot toward a seemingly empty net struck New York defender Carlos Mendes. Overall, though, United struggled to navigate the unforgiving artificial turf and got caught chasing the Red Bulls (5-6-10) on several dangerous sequences after the break.
"The rhythm was not there," Coach Peter Nowak said, "and we have to get it back."
United goalkeeper Troy Perkins survived a busy second half to register his league-leading eighth shutout.
The Red Bulls, unbeaten in five straight, had two opportunities to go ahead late in the match, but Edson Buddle missed a short header and referee Mauricio Navarro let play continue after Youri Djorkaeff's ball in the box struck D.C. defender Bryan Namoff's hand.
"It sure looked like a handball," said Arena, the former United and U.S. national team coach working in his first MLS game in almost eight years. "Those things happen."
Said Namoff, "It wasn't deliberate and the ref made the decision in that way."
Considering Arena had made his New York debut over the weekend -- a 4-1 exhibition loss to European champion Barcelona -- there was little fanfare on this night. He pulled into the stadium's west parking lot a little after 5 p.m., accompanied by one of his assistants, former United captain John Harkes.
Attendance for a weeknight match here was typically dreary, but the handful of D.C. supporters who made the four-hour drive attempted to shake up things a bit with mocking banners aimed at Arena -- "4-5-1?" in reference to his conservative lineup formation at the World Cup, and a Shakespearean "Et Tu, Bruce?"
Nowak played a prominent role in Arena's previous MLS appearance, the 1998 championship game at the Rose Bowl. An attacking midfielder with expansion Chicago, Nowak orchestrated the Fire's 2-0 upset over a United team that many observers consider the best all-around squad in league history.
These days, Nowak oversees the finest club in MLS, albeit one that had not played a league match in 18 days. During that span, however, eight United players contributed to the MLS all-stars' 1-0 win over English power Chelsea, and the team as a whole played to a 1-1 tie with Real Madrid last Wednesday.
Nowak stuck with his usual starting lineup here, but removed Freddy Adu at halftime for precautionary reasons. Adu has been playing with a sore left foot and, with the teenager ineffective in the first half, "we don't want to risk anything on the turf field," Nowak said.
"When it's hurting like that," Adu said, "it's tough to do anything."
United did manage a few good scoring chances in the first half, as Brian Carroll's long bid was pushed away by goalkeeper Tony Meola and Bobby Boswell's header streaked over the crossbar. The second half commenced at a livelier pace, with both sides showing signs of breaking the deadlock. Still, no goals.
"It wasn't a great day," Olsen said, "but we still got out of here with a tie."
United Notes: Namoff's yellow card in the second half pushed his season total over the league limit, which means he will miss Saturday's home game against Colorado. . . . Former D.C. midfielder Shawn Kuykendall, a Madison High and American University graduate who signed with the Red Bulls last week, has a torn knee ligament and will be out at least six months.