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The tale of two talismans

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By ESPN Staff

D.C. United: 2003 Outlook

2002 Record: 9-14-5 (32 points), Eastern Conference last place, did not qualify for playoffs

Coach: Ray Hudson (second season)

Who's back: M Marco Etcheverry, M Bobby Convey, M Santino Quaranta, M Ben Olsen, M Ryan Nelsen, D Milton Reyes, D Brandon Prideaux, GK Nick Rimando

Who's new: F Earnie Stewart, M Hristo Stoitchkov, M Dema Kovalenko, D Galin Ivanov, D Mike Petke

Who's gone: D Eddie Pope, F Jaime Moreno, M Richie Williams

What's ahead: Once the glory franchise of the league, United has missed the playoffs three straight years - quite a feat in a league that lets nearly everybody in.

Hamstrung by the salary cap, the team broke up the remnants of its championship teams by trading Pope, Moreno and Williams to the MetroStars for Petke and draft picks.

That freed up money to snag Stewart, making his MLS debut after 14 years in the Netherlands, and 36-year-old Bulgarian star Stoitchkov, who will double as an assistant coach.

Still, there are so many question marks -- Olsen's health, Convey's sputtering development, filling the void left by Pope -- that United's most realistic goal might be just to finish anything other than last.