United Has Another Shot at Chivas

William Chang hopes he keeps his hair and his team keeps its streak.
William Chang hopes he keeps his hair and his team keeps its streak. (By Joel Richardson For The Washington Post)
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By Zach Berman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, July 12, 2008

United enters tonight's SuperLiga opener with a home-field advantage, a roster more adept at tournament competition and one that is clicking in the thick of the season. This might be enough to save co-managing partner William Chang's hair.

United hosts Chivas Guadalajara at 8 tonight at RFK Stadium as part of the SuperLiga competition between MLS and Mexican teams.

There is another incentive for Chang, albeit an inexpensive one. Chang has a bet with Chivas owner Jorge Vergara. If United loses, Chang must buzz his hair. If Chivas loses, Vergara loses his hair. When the teams met last season, the owners had a similar wager and Chang went under the razor.

"I don't want a free haircut on Saturday," Chang told a United official. "I want to get it from my barber."

Chang's barber might keep the business. United is on a six-game winning streak and eight-game unbeaten streak. Its last loss came May 21.

In last season's inaugural SuperLiga, United went 1-1-1 in group play and lost to Los Angeles in the semifinals. Pachuca (Mexico) won last year's event.

"We're coming together at a really critical point in time in our MLS league, and not only that, but it's a great opportunity to start with another chance to redeem ourselves, trying to get farther than we did last year," defender Bryan Namoff said. "It's quite a new tournament. It's one we want to be the first MLS team to win."

United will play its three round-robin games at RFK Stadium, where it is 5-0-4 against Mexican teams. United's seven all-time losses to Mexican teams have come on the road.

The home-field advantage might not be very noticeable in the stadium. Although United has ardent supporters, Chivas fans are loud and plentiful and likely will infiltrate the stands.

"I don't know how much of a home environment it is because their numbers come out for them, but it makes for an exciting atmosphere," United defender-midfielder Devon McTavish said. "Maybe they have a little more fans than we do, but it's something we can deal with being in our home locker room."

United enters the game at the crux of its season. Although injuries could be a concern, the team is playing well and finally coming together after an offseason spent reloading the roster.

United did not advance in the CONCACAF Champions' Cup, but that tournament came in the beginning of the season. SuperLiga falls before the Mexican season begins.

"The tables have turned a little bit," Namoff said. "Now we have that fitness advantage. We're hitting the middle of our season, so we should be, at this point in time, game fit. . . . There's a confidence buildup within the team."

United Coach Tom Soehn said the scheduling might not be as much of an edge as it seems because the offseason is shorter for the Mexican League teams. Soehn expected no lag in Chivas's fitness, but he cannot dispute the current United run.

Even with built-in advantages, facing one of Mexico's most storied clubs is still a challenge. Chivas knocked United out of the Champions' Cup and Copa Sudamericana last season. Pressure rests on United to validate offseason changes designed for tournaments such as SuperLiga.

"There's always pressure," McTavish said. "Any tournament you're in you're expected to do well, advance, get to the finals and win it. Maybe being home there's a little more pressure."

Notes: Defender Gonzalo Peralta is questionable for tonight's game with a groin injury and forward Quavas Kirk (hamstring) is probable. Midfielder Marcelo Gallardo will not play because of a groin strain aggravated in the June 29 win over Los Angeles. Midfielder Domenic Mediate is out with a concussion. Also out are defender Jeff Carroll (toe surgery), forward Santino Quaranta (hamstring), and midfielders Ben Olsen (ankle surgery) and Dan Stratford (knee surgery).

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