D.C. United's offseason lasted three months, but with a coaching change, arrival of new investors, the departure of its teenage celebrity and three other veterans, the signing of a Brazilian goal scorer and persistent rumors of additional acquisitions, winter break seemed more like three weeks.
The club's preseason has also taken on a condensed feel. Although the MLS season opener is 45 days away, an unpolished United squad will be tossed into the cauldron of international soccer tonight when it confronts Olimpia in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, in the opening leg of the CONCACAF Champions' Cup quarterfinals.
The series finale is March 1 at RFK Stadium and, if United advances, its two-game semifinal against a Mexican or Trinidadian club also would take place before the league debut at Colorado on April 7. United earned a berth in this 45-year-old tournament by virtue of having the best regular season record in MLS last year.
While Olimpia is in the middle of its domestic season, United has had just a month of practice and five exhibitions.
Midfielder Ben Olsen said "it's tough to tell" if United is ready for this level of competition so early in the year. "We haven't gone though 90 minutes in a real game as a team," he added, "but we've been building up to it."
United's five representatives at U.S. national team training camp in January -- Troy Perkins, Bobby Boswell, Bryan Namoff, Josh Gros and Brian Carroll -- are well ahead of their teammates on the fitness front. "Hopefully they can carry us out-of-shape old guys," Olsen, 29, joked.
Said Coach Tom Soehn: "Fortunately, we have a good core of guys, which makes it a lot easier. Our starting points are pretty good with a veteran starting lineup. Some of the guys might not be able to go 90 minutes, and we'll have to manage it very carefully."
United has other issues. Other than the addition of forward Luciano Emilio from Olimpia, the club has yet to fulfill its promise of replacing Freddy Adu, Alecko Eskandarian and Brandon Prideaux, who were traded in December. English prospect Kasali Yinka Casal cannot play until his work visa is finalized, and United continues to pursue a defender and attacking player from abroad.
The site of tonight's match is also a concern. Despite a history of success in international events -- United won the 1998 Champions' Cup at RFK Stadium and has fared well in friendlies against European clubs -- D.C. has never won a serious match in Latin America. Losses to Comunicaciones (Guatemala), Pumas (Mexico) and Catolica (Chile) were by a combined score of 12-2.
Even with a loss tonight, United could advance in the total-goals series with a victory at home next week, but at some point in this competition, D.C. will probably need a good result in a daunting atmosphere.
Olsen is eager to play amid a colorful backdrop, saying: "It's special. You don't get many opportunities to go to places like this, with all the history and passion, and really be hated. I love it. A game like this tells you a lot about your character."
United Notes:Emilio hurt his knee during last weekend's workouts in Florida, but team officials said it's a minor injury and he'll play tonight. . . . The winner of the tournament will advance to the FIFA Club World Cup in Japan in December. The runner-up earns a berth in the Copa Sudamericana, a second-tier Latin tournament. . . . Olimpia won the Champions' Cup in 1972 and '88. MLS teams have participated in the tournament since 1997, but only United and the Los Angeles Galaxy (in 2000) have won titles. . . . The players were guests of honor at a luncheon hosted by the U.S. Embassy in Tegucigalpa yesterday.