When D.C. United's coaching staff got its first look at Sam Boyd Stadium here a few days ago, something was terribly wrong. The newly renovated facility on the dusty outskirts of town looked nice enough for this week's CONCACAF Champions Cup, but the field had a problem: The penalty areas had been marked nine yards too narrow, the six-yard box was closer to 10 and even the center circle was drawn incorrectly.
"I think if it wasn't for [assistant Dave Sarachan] and I . . . we saved CONCACAF a potential unbelievable embarrassment," Coach Thomas Rongen said with a laugh today. "We just couldn't believe it. . . . I don't think the referee would have liked that."
The markings were redone in time for tonight's quarterfinals, but not without more scars on a field already stained with football-field markings and blotted-out University of Nevada-Las Vegas logos.
In this venue, not far from the artificial skylines of New York and Paris and the electronic billboards for Paul Anka and George Carlin on the Strip, United will try to concentrate on one of the most important weeks in its four-year history.
By winning the Champions Cup for a second consecutive year, United would earn a berth in the inaugural world club championships early next year in Brazil and about $1.5 million just for appearing in games against the likes of Manchester United and Real Madrid.
United's first step is Wednesday night's quarterfinal against Central American champion Olimpia of Tegucigalpa, Honduras. The semifinals are Friday and the third-place game and final Sunday.
The timing couldn't have been better for United, which has a club-record 11-game winning streak in Major League Soccer play. Except for midfielder Ben Olsen's cold, which kept him sidelined during practice this morning at Durango High School, D.C. is healthy for one of the few times this season.
"This is the best time to be at our best," midfielder Richie Williams said. "Everyone is playing great, everyone is playing hard and we're playing together. We all know the importance of this tournament, and we're determined to win it."
Rongen rested most of his starters during last Saturday's game against the Western Conference-leading Los Angeles Galaxy at the Rose Bowl. With home-field advantage in the playoffs already ensured, United wouldn't have fretted over a loss; D.C. won anyway, on long-range goals by forward A.J. Wood and defender Clint Peay.
Olimpia, however, could pose problems for a United defense that has had letdowns several times in recent months. Forward Wilmer Velasquez, known as "El Matador," scored five of his team's six goals in a three-game sweep during Central America's final qualifying round, and playmaker Marlon Hernandez and Brazilian wing Denilson Costa are dangerous on attack.
During practice today, United worked on striking quickly against what Rongen said is a slow Olimpia defense.
"It's not going to be easy," Rongen said. "We're going to have to be sharp against this team."
What: CONCACAF Champions Cup quarterfinal.
Who: vs. Olimpia of Honduras.
Where: Sam Boyd Stadium, Las Vegas.
TV: Fox Sports World.
D.C.: Probable Starters: GK -- Tom Presthus; D -- Diego Sonora, Carlos Llamosa, Eddie Pope, Jeff Agoos; MF -- Richie Williams, John Maessner, Ben Olsen, Marco Etcheverry; F -- Jaime Moreno, Roy Lassiter.
Tonight's Other Game: Necaxa (Mexico) vs. Saprissa (Costa Rica), 11.