D.C. United returns to CONCACAF Champions League for 1st in 5 years

(Waterhouse FC)
(Waterhouse FC)

First off, gotta love the Waterhouse FC logo. Flames and a scarf, a soccer ball with a halo and a house near, or floating on, water.

The Jamaican side, which visits RFK Stadium on Wednesday evening, won its CONCACAF Champions League opener two weeks ago, defeating Tauro in Panama, 2-1. In a three-team group with each club playing four matches, three points on the road is enormous. Waterhouse would be thrilled to gain a point in Washington before hosting its final two matches in Kingston. (Translation: absorb, counterattack and rejoice over a draw.) One team from this group will advance to the quarterfinals early next year. Hence, there is little room for error.

Amid a heavy league schedule, United Coach Ben Olsen will mix regulars and reserves Wednesday. He confirmed goalkeeper Joe Willis, who has not played a first-team match this season, will mind the net. Willis slipped to No. 3 on the depth chart at the start of the year behind Bill Hamid and Andrew Dykstra but moved up when Dykstra ruptured an Achilles’ tendon last month. Before the promotion, he was playing regularly on loan for third-division Richmond.

Olsen did not identify the other starters, but because Eddie Johnson‘s suspension applies to league matches only, the veteran forward seems certain to start.

Other likely candidates: Jared Jeffrey, Lewis Neal, David Estrada and Alex Caskey.

Injuries to Chris Korb, Jeff Parke, Conor Doyle and Michael Seaton have depleted Olsen’s options.

With the Champions League overlapping with league matches, “you have to prioritize a little bit,” Olsen said. “But I also hope we are deep enough to utilize everybody and have some type of success in both” competitions.

Olsen is attempting to strike a balance between starting well in CONCACAF and avoiding fatigue ahead of league matches at Sporting Kansas City on Saturday, at Los Angeles next Wednesday and home against New York four days later. (Besides the formidable opponents, United is going to spend a lot of time on airplanes in several time zones in the coming week.)

Despite several new faces in the lineup Wednesday, captain Bobby Boswell said, “it’s a group [of players] that knows what it is supposed to do; they have gotten some games, so we expect to win. We have enough good players. In a way, this is a group that is going to be hungrier. This is their opportunity to show well.”

United is making its first appearance in the Champions League since the fall of 2009, when it finished third in a four-team group with a 3-2-1 record. Toluca and Marathon advanced. A year earlier, United posted five defeats and a draw in a group with Saprissa, Marathon and Cruz Azul.

Before CONCACAF switched to the league format, United made eight Champions Cup appearances between 1997 and 2008, winning the championship in ’97 with a victory over Toluca in the final at RFK.

These days, the CONCACAF champion advances to the Club World Cup. No MLS team has ever done so.

“Guys want to go that world club thing,” Boswell said. “It’s not like guys aren’t taking it seriously. It’s just tough, man. I played some teams for sure we thought we were going to win and we go down there and get shelled.”

Boswell was part of the Houston squad last fall that lost at Panama’s Arabe Unido in the decisive final match of the group stage.

Several other D.C. players have CONCACAF experience, including Sean Franklin with Los Angeles and Fabian Espindola with Real Salt Lake.

“It’s important for us to get through to the next phase,” Olsen said, “and that starts tomorrow.”

Kickoff is at 8 p.m. ET. Fox Sports 2 will provide live coverage. No local radio. A small crowd is expected.

*Olsen had this to say about Chris Pontius, out all year recovering from a hamstring ailment: “We are cautiously optimistic about him moving back into the fold the next couple of weeks. We just have to be smart with his integration.”

Pontius has not played in a competitive match in almost 10 months and, even if fully healed, he’ll need quite some time to regain playing fitness.

*Colorado captain Drew Moor, injured trying to prevent Luis Silva‘s opening goal Sunday night at RFK, is out for the season with a torn ACL. [Video of the play and Moor discussing the injury.]

 

Steven Goff is The Post’s soccer writer. His beats include D.C. United, MLS and the international game, as well as local college basketball.
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Steven Goff · August 18