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United to Start Season Early for Champions' Cup

Thursday, December 16, 2004; Page D02

D.C. United won't begin defense of its MLS championship until April 2, but the club learned yesterday that its 2005 season will actually start almost a month earlier against a Jamaican team.

In a draw held in New York, United was paired with Harbour View in the quarterfinals of the CONCACAF Champions' Cup -- a 42-year-old international tournament that will determine the best pro team in this region of the world. The tournament winner will qualify for the FIFA Club World Championship in Japan, tentatively scheduled for next December.

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United will host Harbour View -- which beat crosstown rival Tivoli Gardens, 2-1, for the Caribbean title yesterday -- on March 9 and then travel to Kingston, Jamaica, for the March 16 return match in the two-game, total-goals series. In the other quarterfinal matchups, the MLS Cup runner-up Kansas City Wizards will face Saprissa of Costa Rica; Mexican champion Pumas will play Olimpia of Honduras; and Monterrey of Mexico will take on Municipal of Guatemala.

The semifinals, which likely would pit United vs. Pumas and Monterrey vs. Saprissa, are scheduled for April, and the final series will be played in May.

Because of renovations taking place at RFK Stadium, United will likely host its first Champions' Cup game at Maryland SoccerPlex in Germantown or Ludwig Field in College Park.

United won the 1998 Champions' Cup, defeating Toluca of Mexico, 1-0, in the final.

The MLS season will begin April 2 with United tentatively scheduled to play on the road against Chivas USA, a Mexican-run expansion team based in Carson, Calif. D.C. is hoping to play its home opener April 9, but the RFK renovations could complicate matters and force it to play its first three matches on the road.

Meantime, defender Ryan Nelsen, whose contract expires this month, is close to joining English club Blackburn; defenders Mike Petke, Brandon Prideaux and Bryan Namoff are close to re-signing with United; and technical director DaveKasper returned from a scouting trip in Argentina with "two solid defensive prospects on our radar." Two Europeans are also being considered.

-- Steven Goff

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