Familiar Foe Awaits in the Copa Sudamericana

By Steven Goff
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, May 23, 2007

When D.C. United accepted an invitation this week to play in a South American tournament called the Copa Sudamericana, it expected to be paired with a club from perhaps Peru, Bolivia or Ecuador.

Instead, United learned yesterday that it will face the team that eliminated it from the last international event in which it participated: Chivas of Mexico. The two-game, round-of-16 series will begin in mid-September, with the winner playing a Brazilian or Argentine opponent.

"There's some unfinished business on our side," United Coach Tom Soehn said. "I truly wanted to see them in the tournament, but probably not this early."

In the CONCACAF Champions' Cup semifinals earlier this year, United and Chivas played to a 1-1 tie at RFK Stadium on March 15 before the Mexican side came from behind in Guadalajara to win the second leg, 2-1, on April 3 and clinch the series, 3-2, on aggregate.

Mexican clubs Pachuca and Club America also were invited to play in the sixth edition of the Copa Sudamericana, the second-most important club competition in South America behind the 47-year-old Copa Libertadores. United earned a spot by finishing third in the Champions' Cup.

In the 2005 Copa Sudamericana, United tied Catolica of Chile, 1-1, at home and led 2-0 in Santiago before allowing three straight goals.

"It's a great chance for us to further D.C. United as a brand and show around the world we are a capable team internationally," midfielder Ben Olsen said.

The timing of the tournament is not ideal for United, which will be entering the final stretch of the MLS regular season and perhaps fighting for a playoff berth.

"We know that our calendar is very tight," Argentine midfielder Christian Gomez said, "but it's an international tournament that any player would like to compete in."

National Duty for Moreno

United captain Jaime Moreno tied the MLS career scoring record on Saturday in Toronto, but will have to wait until June 2 for a chance to set the mark. Moreno will miss Saturday's home match against defending champion Houston to play for Bolivia's national team against Ireland in Foxborough, Mass.

A good performance might earn him a spot on Bolivia's Copa America roster this summer.

Rookie Guy-Roland Kpene is the top candidate to replace Moreno in United's lineup Saturday.

"Jaime is always going to missed, not just for his playing ability but also for his leadership qualities," Soehn said.

As for Kpene, who has yet to score but has been influential in every appearance, "He's consistently showing that he can do the business, so every time he does well, it's going to buy more time for him," Soehn said.

Injury Notes

Olsen has a sore ankle and did not participate in full workouts yesterday, but expects to start against Houston. Defender Devon McTavish, who has missed three games with a hip flexor, returned to light training but Soehn is unsure whether he will be available Saturday. . . .

With forward Jamil Walker out for the year with an Achilles' tendon injury, United is weighing its options for filling his senior roster spot. The club could promote a developmental player, such as Kpene; add a low-cost player right away; or leave the position open until this summer, when the international signing period reopens. . . .

Former United star Alecko Eskandarian, who scored for Toronto against his old team Saturday, was traded to Real Salt Lake with a first-round draft pick for forward Jeff Cunningham. "It's a huge shock," Eskandarian said. "I am definitely disappointed." . . .

United will donate $3 from every ticket sold to Saturday's game to a fund supporting merchants and employees impacted by the fire at Eastern Market last month.

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