D.C. United won its Champions' Cup opener last week against Harbour View of Jamaica, but because it was only a one-goal margin at home against a shivering opponent, no one was in a celebratory mood afterward.
United's indecisive victory left the club with almost no room for error when the teams meet again tonight in Kingston for the final leg of the two-game quarterfinal series. A win or tie would get United through to the semifinals of the 43-year-old international tournament. But a two-goal loss would eliminate D.C. and a one-goal defeat would force overtime and, if necessary, a penalty kick tiebreaker.
_____Champions' Cup_____Champions' Cup
Who: D.C. United at Harbour View.
What: Second leg of two-game quarterfinal series.
Where: Harbour View Mini-Stadium, Kingston, Jamaica.
When: 7:30 p.m.
TV: Fox Soccer Channel.
Internet: Live audio coverage at www.dcunited.com
Other Games: Monterrey (Mexico) at Municipal (Guatemala), 9; Olimpia (Honduras) at Pumas (Mexico), 9:30; Kansas City at Saprissa (Costa Rica), tomorrow at 9.
It's not exactly a comforting situation for the defending MLS champions, whose realistic objective was to breeze through the first round to eventually win this competition and earn a berth in the world championships in Japan late this year.
"It's going to be difficult, and we know Harbour View's confidence level will be high playing at home," United Coach Peter Nowak said. "We have to be careful. The first 20 or 30 minutes will set the tone for us."
Harbour View is undoubtedly glad to be home in the tropics after enduring a 30-degree game-time temperature and biting wind a week ago at Maryland SoccerPlex in Germantown. Today in Kingston: 86 degrees with light Caribbean breezes.
Last week United took advantage of the conditions, dominating possession and creating an abundance of early opportunities while its opponent adjusted to the cold. After scoring in the fifth minute, however, D.C. couldn't extend its lead. From there, defensive lapses allowed opportunistic Harbour View to tie the game and later test goalkeeper Nick Rimando with several dangerous chances.
Josh Gros's header midway through the second half gave United a 2-1 victory -- not exactly the ideal margin to take on the road for the final game.
Nowak declined to discuss possible lineup changes, but he might be tempted to replace third-year defender David Stokes with veteran Brandon Prideaux. Stokes's unforced giveaway in the second half last week presented Harbour View with a breakaway, which Rimando negated with a sliding stop.
While defense is United's primary concern, Nowak might receive a midfield boost with the arrival of Steve Guppy, a left-sided player from England who recently agreed to a contract with the team and was awaiting international clearance to play in an official game. He flew from London to Kingston and joined his new teammates.
"Of course, we need to play better," said Nowak, whose team played its first meaningful game in almost four months last week. "The little things are important. The first half [last week], after we scored, we sat back too much and watched what the other team was doing. We have to get back to our style of play."
The winner of the United-Harbour View series will meet Mexican champion Pumas or Honduran club Olimpia in next month's two-leg semifinals. Those teams will conclude their series tonight in Mexico City following a 1-1 tie in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, last week.
In the other bracket, Monterrey of Mexico will visit Guatemala City to face Municipal after winning the opener at home, 2-1; and the MLS runner-up Kansas City Wizards will play at Saprissa (Costa Rica) tomorrow night following last week's scoreless tie at Arrowhead Stadium.