United Faces Uphill Climb in SuperLiga
Saturday, July 19, 2008
From one perspective, given his team's bleak SuperLiga outlook, D.C. United Coach Tom Soehn should probably abandon any hope of reaching the semifinals, rest his weary regulars and turn his attention toward the resumption of the MLS regular season Tuesday.
From another standpoint, Soehn should use tonight's group finale against the Houston Dynamo at RFK Stadium to repair his club's shattered rhythm and make an honest run at the next round.
In typically guarded pregame style yesterday, Soehn was reluctant to spell out his approach, though he did offer some clues.
"You evaluate stretches all the time and make sure that we have at least a side that is not exhausted, a side that has some guys that are rested," he said of two games in four days, the second being a league match against the visiting Dynamo on Tuesday. He also said, however, "The hill to climb is pretty large, but it can be done."
To qualify for the semifinals, United must defeat Houston by three goals and hope Chivas Guadalajara beats Mexican rival Atlante late tonight in Santa Clara, Calif. If that scenario unfolds, Chivas would win the group with nine points, and the other teams would finish with three. United's superior goal difference (plus-1) would secure second place.
The task is even more difficult than it sounds. The Dynamo is conceding 1.2 goals per game in league play (and has allowed just one in a pair of SuperLiga matches) and United's roster is badly depleted by injuries. Midfielder Marcelo Gallardo and defender Gonzalo Peralta each underwent sports hernia surgery yesterday, while midfielder Santino Quaranta's hamstring injury will probably prevent him from playing. Midfielder Ben Olsen (ankle) and reserves Domenic Mediate (concussion) and Dan Stratford (knee) remain out.
Team captain Jaime Moreno, who has complained of abdominal muscle problems recently, said he will not start, and considering the wear and tear on the team, Soehn might limit the minutes for several others. Without Gallardo or Moreno, Soehn will probably use Rod Dyachenko or Fred in central midfield.
"I am tired, everybody is tired," forward Luciano Emilio said. "We worry about this, but we are professional and we need to work hard to go through. . . . There is no big chance, but I think it is possible" to advance.
The SuperLiga has been a huge disappointment for United, which entered the second-year tournament on an eight-game unbeaten streak and looked forward to all group matches, and possibly the semifinal and final, at home. The injuries were disruptive, but more so, defensive lapses, missed scoring opportunities and disjointed play set the club back to its poor early-season form and resulted in losses to Chivas, 2-1, and Atlante, 3-2.
In the latter game, with Peralta unavailable, the central defensive tandem of Marc Burch and Devon McTavish was badly exploited.
"It's going to be a good test to bounce back from what we did the past two games," Moreno said. "Definitely it's going to be a game to get our confidence back, and hopefully we get through. Everyone knows what the job is."
The job is to win big and then cheer for Chivas.
"We can't try to win the game in the first 20 minutes, but if we can come into halftime being up by a goal, everyone on this team is confident we can get two more in the second half," defender Bryan Namoff said. "The bottom line is that we need goals, and we need a lot of them."
United Notes: Emiliano Diaz, a midfielder from Argentine club San Lorenzo, has been on tryout the past two days. "We're close to making a decision on that one," Soehn said, declining to evaluate Diaz's performance. United is also searching for a goalkeeper after waiving José Carvallo on Thursday. . . . Midfielder Joe Vide, signed off waivers Wednesday, is not eligible to play until next week. . . . Commenting on New England Coach Steve Nicol's decision not to select any United players for next week's All-Star Game in Toronto, Soehn said: "I think it's ridiculous, but it's his choice."