D.C. United 1, L.A. Firpo 1: A Look Back

D.C. United

DCUnited.com

By TRAVIS CLARK

It was supposed to be a chance at redemption for D.C. United. A new crack at the CONCACAF Champions League, a competition that saw them post a dismal 0-5-1. But whatever optimism that D.C. coming into the preliminary was quickly diffused by a stubborn LA Firpo opponent that held a reserve-heavy United in check Tuesday night.

Perhaps one of the most revealing points from Tuesday's game was the reaction of Firpo Coach Agustin Castillo to United's starting lineup.

"We had prepared for a totally different team," Castillo said through an interpreter. "But we saw six names on the roster that were different."

This continues a disturbing — yet almost necessary — trend in MLS of starting weaker lineups in international competitions. The game wasn't easy on the eyes, at times resembling what it was: a team in preseason going up against a worn down side in the middle of their domestic campaign.

Regulars like Jaime Moreno and Dejan Jakovic dotted the starting lineup, but Bryan Namoff, Christian Gomez, and Ben Olsen were either relegated to the bench, or left off the team sheet altogether.

It's easy to be critical of that approach, but the reality of the situation is that Soehn made the right moves. With a club fighting for a playoff position, risking a lineup of regular starters could cripple their hopes of qualifying for the postseason — no doubt a priority for D.C. after falling just short last year.

Danny Szetela made his debut for United, starting in the attacking mid slot. However, Soehn soon moved him over to the right wing. His first start in a United uniform was about what you'd expect — a player trying to learn a new system, struggling at times, but certainly showing glimpses of the talent that took him to Europe.

After drawing 1-1, it's certainly not out of the question for D.C. to qualify for the group stages with the away fixture to El Salvador scheduled for August 4.

The trip to Central America will no doubt be made more difficult by the field conditions down in Usulután that Firpo's coach alluded to after the game.

"Obviously the [RFK field] is in perfect shape — we don't have those sort of fields back in El Salvador," Castillo said.

It makes you wonder what kind of pitch D.C. will walk out onto next week. That surely can't bode well for United's chances away. Neither did Soehn's remarks about their approach.

"On Saturday [vs. Houston] we’re going to focus on Saturday and pick up the pieces after that and we’ll worry about Tuesday [at Firpo], but Saturday is a very important game," Soehn said.

A tough trip to Houston awaits D.C. this weekend, as they look to maintain their standing in the Eastern Conference and in position to make the playoffs.

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What do you think of the match? Did D.C. take the wrong approach? Are you a United fan and feel aggrieved at their starting lineup? Leave your thoughts below.

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23 Responses to D.C. United 1, L.A. Firpo 1: A Look Back

  1. Brooklyn Dave says:

    I thought Szetela was pretty poor, but hopefully that’s due to a period of adjustment to a new system and teammates.

  2. Jason says:

    You know, one thing I’ve always admired about DC is the fact they always treated this competition with some reverence, and actually tried to win it. Until this week. Granted, DC could still field a strong team for the reserve leg, and could still go through.

    But I hope that good attitude isn’t coming to an end. You guys looked like the Revs (which isn’t good).

    Top players in Europe play 38 club matches, plus domestic cup, + CL/UEFA Cup + internationals. And can easily tally 50+ matches a year, and often play 3 games in eight days.

    MLS meanwhile, has teams go for weeks without playing a match for no reason (Chivas), then bunches all the games together. Players play 30 league + 1-2 USOC, maybe some playoffs and internationals, and cry about the CL games. All in all, 10 less games, with fewer internationals in the league.

    Peace.

  3. joe says:

    Jason, your argument negates one huge issue that face MLS sides:

    Roster depth and sheer roster size.

  4. Richard says:

    Jason, DC treated this competition with reverence when they bombed uot last year? The old CONCACAF Champions Cup was a fine setup; this blatant money-grab by Jack Warner should be treated by MLS teams with as much reverence as it deserves: none.

    Also, those European teams play all those games over a 10 month period. MLS sides have to condense almost as many matches (if they go far in the Open Cup, MLS playoffs, and in to CCL group play) in to 8 months. Plus, as has been pointed out, MLS sides don’t have depth in quality. the superclubs that go far in Europe can trot out 2 full sides of players and subs who would win most of the leagues around the world.

  5. Rossi is Judas says:

    Joe is exactly right. Between roster size and a miniscule salary cap, MLS teams do not have the depth to compete in so many games during such a short period of time. As strange as it sounds, RBNY is probably the greatest hope an MLS side has of winning this tournament. They’ll be able to field a full strength team without having to worry about the playoff race in MLS.

  6. Ok, is there any money in this competition to the players or the clubs?

    Is there any money in the US Open Cup for clubs and players?

    I am disgusted by how MLS teams are showing themselves in this tournament.

    Fans and the league want respect, yet they show very little against teams from countries they should be beating.

    Until MLS teams are winning International trophies. The league is 2nd rate.

    Winning a couple of friendlies against EPL teams in pre-season does not count.

  7. Are you listening Don Garber? If there is money for the players and they are winning the Champions League, could you recruit better players into the league?

    Is the league going to learn how to make money off these players by selling them to bigger clubs in the world?

  8. sack says:

    Sorry, but clubs all over the planent sometimes play up to 3 games in 7 days when they are in internation competition. Players are fit and professional, hell the USA team played 7 games in 2.5 weeks.

    Fact is MLS teams make excuses for their results. DC could have played a weaker 11 vs. the lowly SJ team and focues on getting a good home leg result on Tuesday but elected to treat it like a mini reserve game.

    The rosters are big enough, the real issue is MLS teams placing greater value on league play (which is stupid since 8 teams make post season) then on establishing themsleves internationaly and winning over non mls fans.

    My team sucks this year, but even if they didn’t the FO stated that the CCL was their top priority in 2009. We may lose but it wont be because we dont take the match seriously.

  9. Gene_SF says:

    It is disappointing that MLS teams don’t do as well as they should in this competition. I dream of some day seeing American club teams playing in Copa Libertadores. But it is hard to make a case for inclusion in that tournament when our teams, or at leas the squads they put out, cannot compete against Central American and USL-1 teams.

    My somewhat uneducated guess is that several things need to happen. One is that the MLS rosters needs to get larger. Teams play an awful number of games over the summer. Add to that a busy international calendar and lack of depth, and you got a problem.

    Two is that I really think they need to bring back the reserve division. If you are going to have teams rely on their benches in the Open Cup and Champions League games, these guys need game time. Bring the division back, give a money bonus to the winners to sweeten the pot. These guys need playing time in game condition.

    Three, eventually, calendar needs to be adjusted to the Euro calendar. Games with international clubs are a good way to introduce the public to the game. But these games become detrimental when they take place in a middle of a congested season, which the teams handle with relatively small rosters full of players who make little money. The Barcelona & Chelseay friendlies would work much better for the MLS if these take place in the pre-season for the MLS, as well as the European teams. I have faith that this well eventually happen.

  10. Jason1551 says:

    I’m surprised no one has mentioned the travel. DC went from DC to SJ, back to DC, go to Houston, and then El Salvador. The idea that the same XI players can deal with that much travel, then go play games, and be expected to go a full 90 is ridiculous. They’re people, not machines.

  11. Brian says:

    Richard, you’re living in a dream land if you think that the champions cup was “perfectly fine” setup. This tournament is a big step-up.

    I love DC, and the lineup that we threw out should have been able to win handily. But it’s been two matches in a row now that we have played like crap. Lets hope that we can get it together.

  12. Mike says:

    I agree with Joe, but I think there’s really no equivalency in schedule that can be made between MLS and European clubs:

    1. You’re just not going to see MLS teams put in their starters with the smaller roster sizes. European teams routinely have rosters of around 30 players (or even more), and that doesn’t even include the 20 other players that are on reserve squads that can fill in case of injuries. DC United has 24 players.

    2. European clubs have greater financial freedom to bolster their teams during their transfer windows while the salary cap limits MLS acquisitions.

    3. MLS teams travel farther distances than European clubs, which play all their non-CL matches in a country the size of one US state.

    4. The MLS season is significantly shorter. MLS runs from March to October with a month of playoffs, which is a 7-8 month season. In England, the Premiership season begins on August 15th (not counting preseason games which have been going on for a few weeks already) and runs until May 9th, which is a 9-month season. So, they get 1-2 extra months to play those 10 or so extra games.

    Soehn’s doing the best he can with the club he has and the limitations of the league. So, I think he made the right move.

  13. We always make excuses for bad performance.

    Is MLS serious about competing or not? Where is the money? Is it in the league, US Open, or Champions League?

    As a fan, I am tired of hearing about all the excuses.

    I cut the league some slack last year, as it was the first year. This year, there really should be no excuses.

    Everything is driven by money. Watching both DC United and Toronto, you have to think there is no money in it for the club or the players.

  14. Gene_SF says:

    I watched bits of replay of the Toronto match on FSC. Losing to a team featuring Kyle Veris in defense is really inexcusable. Also, Toronto’s offense lacks imagination. I wonder where is Guevara?

    But my hat’s off to the Islanders for being very opportunistic on offense and then disciplined enough not to give up a goal of their own.

  15. Richard says:

    The CCL is a step up in what way?

    And no, there’s no money to be had in the CCL. Teams play only because CONCACAF forces them to (ask the Mexican teams)There is a ticket to the Club World Cup for the winner, but the way this competition is set up, no MLS side has a chance of going, because by stretching out the tournament, the depth in quality of the Mexican sides will win out every time.

    Plus, the old CONCACAF Champions Cup had the same reward, but it didn’t force more Mexican and MLS teams to play many more useless games. The only people who prefer the CCL are the Central American and Caribbean minnows.

  16. DeliBelly says:

    Each time an MLS club gives a dismal performance, they are embarrassing the whole league and not just their clubs. What can MLS or CONCACAF do to incentivize MLS clubs to take this competition seriously? Ives/Travis — I’d love to see an article on this topic in the near future.

    One thing that MLS should address is scheduling. DC United is in a stretch where they play 7 games in 3 weeks (from July 18 to Aug 9), so it’s not surprising they showed up with half a team. MLS cannot keep jamming up teams like this. Perhaps there should be a rule where MLS teams in CONCACAF either do not play in the US Open Cup or they get automatic byes during the early rounds of the US Open Cup. This year and last, DC United has participated several rounds in the US Open Cup and then played in CONCACAF. I don’t think it’s sustainable.

    Another option would be for MLS clubs to recognize the drain that scheduling these extra games puts on the participating clubs, and so allow MLS clubs that qualify for the CONCACAF tournament to bring in one extra player on their roster during the summer transfer window. I don’t think this would be an unfair advantage, it’s more like compensating for what otherwise would be a disadvantage that a heavier schedule brings.

    Another option is to reduce the number of matches that teams in the CONCACAF groups must play. Instead of the current setup where teams play six matches (groups of four, where you play the three other teams twice) it could be changed to resemble the groups in the UEFA cup where teams only play four matches (groups of five, where you only play the four other teams once).

    The final option is money. How much do clubs earn by participating in this tournament? I have no idea, but maybe it should be increased. Although whoever is profiting from the tournament now is not going to want to give up that money by paying out larger sums of prize money.

  17. East River says:

    Let me get this straight DC United rolls out a bunch of 2nd string players for an international competition b/c its more interested in making the playoffs. But yet when Real Madrid or any other Euro club comes around they trot out there starters b/c they want to make a good showing, playoffs be damn. Talk about priorities. No wonder so many can’t take MLS seriously.

  18. Richard says:

    Um, no, European clubs don’t trot out their starters because they want to make a good showing; they do it to get their starters match-fit. It’s preseason; there’s nothing else going on. If they had league matches every weekend, you can be sure not to see their starters.

    All you people bitching about the poor showing of MLS need to band together to donate to Jack Warner to raise the prize money given by the CCL. Right now, it makes zero sense for players and teams to take seriously a tournament that pays virtually no money.

  19. ManU Fan says:

    Increasing the roster size is not the answer. MLS can increase the roster size by ten…all you get is 10 more guys who make league $20K. You are not going to get 10 more Christian Gomez type of players. MLS needs to increase the salary cap so you can get 4 or 5 Christian Gomez type of players to compete in this level.

    But we all know that’s not going to happen soon.

  20. East River says:

    Oh please that is the sorriest excuse all you excuse used. I mean seriously as if being able to say we are champions of MLS is saying much. Not being to get past teams from minnow countries like El Salvador, Trinidad, or Puerto Rico counter acts positive impressions you can come away with from a good showing in a friendly. MLS clubs simply need to realize that its in their best interest to prove to everyone in the region that it is one of the best leagues in CCC winning CCL games is the best proof of that.

  21. dcu says:

    Brooklyn Dave,

    Szetela looked worse than the others? He at least was hustling for long stretches and showed some flare.

    I’m sick of excuses for MLS. Play with passion or don’t play at all.

  22. MC says:

    Gnutella aint that great. Non-impact player in MLS.

  23. Shitsky D'Hippopotamus says:

    Red Bull, I mean DC United looked awful….USL teams would have beat this garbage