When D.C. United arrived at its training grounds outside RFK Stadium yesterday, a fierce wind was shooting snow and ice into the players' rapidly reddening faces and carrying away anything unsecured. The white soccer ball, indistinguishable on a snow-covered field, was replaced by a bright orange one. Young midfielder Nana Kuffour was the target of snowballs as he set up one of the mini-goals.
"Beautiful -- just like summer in Poland!" Coach Peter Nowak, a native of Poland, said before cutting off practice about a half-hour early.
United hosts Jamaican club Harbour View today in weather Coach Peter Nowak, above, describes as "beautiful -- just like summer in Poland!"
(Joel Richardson -- The Washington Post)
Who: D.C. United vs. Harbour View (Jamaica).
What: First leg of two-game quarterfinal series.
Where: Maryland SoccerPlex in Germantown.
When: Tonight, 7:30.
TV: Fox Soccer Channel.
Internet: Live audio coverage at www.dcunited.com
Other Games: Saprissa (Costa Rica) at Kansas City, 8; Municipal (Guatemala) at Monterrey (Mexico), 10; Pumas (Mexico) at Olimpia (Honduras), 7:30.
With the start of the MLS regular season still 3 1/2 weeks away, Nowak might have been tempted to call it off altogether. But United needed the time to prepare for the team's first competition of the year, a Champions' Cup quarterfinal match tonight against Caribbean champion Harbour View of Jamaica at Maryland SoccerPlex in Germantown, where the game-time temperature will be in the 30s.
The second leg in the home-and-home series will be played next Wednesday in balmy Kingston.
United midfielder Ben Olsen dismissed the idea of his team having an advantage playing in the cold against a team from the tropics.
"They're professionals and they've dealt with things before," he said. "It's probably not their ideal climate, but they're a good team, and this game means a lot."
The 43-year-old tournament features eight teams from North and Central America and the Caribbean, with the winner earning a berth in the world championships late this year in Japan, and the runner-up likely heading to a prestigious event in South America. United and the Kansas City Wizards qualified by reaching the MLS final last season. Pumas of Mexico City, United's possible semifinal opponent next month, is considered the favorite.
The timing of the tournament probably places United at a slight disadvantage because, unlike most of the other teams, D.C. has yet to start league play this year. Its last meaningful game was the 3-2 MLS Cup victory over Kansas City almost four months ago.
"Our team understands that, little game or big game, we play the same way," said Nowak, whose team went 6-1 in preseason matches in Florida and Hawaii. "For us, the season starts pretty early so we have to be ready with the right mentality and approach to the game."
Added Olsen: "It's been a pretty intense preseason. The coaches have done a good job pushing us to our limit and getting us ready. It will be nice to go into a real competitive game and play a game that means something. It's our first test and it will set a tone for how we will do and what our mentality will be during the season."
United Notes: The club is closing in on a deal with English veteran Steve Guppy, a left-side midfielder who turns 36 this month. He might join the team next week, a source close to the situation said. His previous clubs include Southampton, Newcastle, Celtic (Scotland), Leicester City, Leeds and, most recently, Wycombe in League Two, the fourth level of English soccer. . . .
Brazil's Odvan, the top candidate to replace departed all-star Ryan Nelsen in central defense, will accompany the team to Florida tomorrow. A decision on whether to offer him a contract will be made by the end of the week, club officials said.
"We need a couple more days to see how he really is," Nowak said. "The first couple days were pretty good. The guys have started to see what he's about." . . .
United signed rookie midfielder Nick Van Sicklen and free agent forward Jamil Walker to contracts. Terms were not disclosed.