Tournament Offers United Summer Fun

By Steven Goff
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, July 25, 2007

On the surface, D.C. United's participation in the inaugural SuperLiga tournament appears to be a terrible distraction during an increasingly troubling stretch of its MLS season.

But for the players and coaches, the perception is quite different. To them, it is a welcome break from the league's summer grind and a chance to play meaningful international matches. It's an opportunity to represent U.S. soccer against clubs from the region's stronghold, Mexico.

And it is a chance to earn some extra cash.

"I'm always for these international tournaments," midfielder Ben Olsen said yesterday. "It comes at a good time for us because we are all in a little bit of a summer lull. In MLS, sometimes it can be tough to maintain that fire and stay focused."

United will begin play in the eight-team tournament tonight against Monarcas Morelia at RFK Stadium. D.C. will host Club America of Mexico City on Sunday evening and then play at reigning MLS champion Houston next Wednesday in the Group B finale.

If United finishes first or second, it will have to squeeze an Aug. 14 or 15 semifinal onto its busy calendar. The final is scheduled for Aug. 29 at a site to be determined. Group A comprises the Los Angeles Galaxy and FC Dallas from MLS, and Chivas Guadalajara and Pachuca from Mexico.

From a competitive standpoint, the tournament was established to cultivate rivalries between U.S. and Mexican clubs. From a business standpoint, MLS sees an opportunity to further expand its brand name in Mexico as well as Mexican-American communities, where fans have maintained loyal ties to their hometown clubs and have largely shunned MLS.

The event was created by MLS's marketing arm, Soccer United Marketing (SUM), in cooperation with the Mexican soccer federation. Every match will be shown live on Mexico's two biggest networks, Televisa and TV Azteca, and on Spanish-language Telefutura in the United States.

SUM will reward the tournament champion $1 million. If an MLS team wins, $150,000 of the prize money will be earmarked for the players to divide. The league also will award $100,000 to the players on an MLS team that loses in the final, and $50,000 to the players on any MLS team that loses in the semifinals.

This year's MLS participants were selected by tournament organizers, but starting next summer, the top four finishers in the previous regular season will earn bids.

"Any time you get to gauge yourself against good teams from different countries, it is important," United Coach Tom Soehn said. "It's never easy because it's in the midst of a season, but this is the time we have."

Historically, MLS teams have fared poorly against their Mexican counterparts, but the timing of SuperLiga should work to MLS's advantage. Many of those previous meetings took place in winter or spring months, when MLS teams are either in training camp or early in regular season and the Mexicans are in midseason form. This time, the situation is reversed.

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