United's depth will be tested in CONCACAF Champions League

United's depth will be tested in CONCACAF Champions League
August 19, 2014, 11:30 am
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(Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports)

D.C. United is back where it belongs. To be sure participation in the CONCACAF Champions League makes life more complicated in Major League Soccer, but D.C. United’s mission statement from the beginning in 1996 was to win titles in league play and beyond.

The Back and Red return to the Champions League against Jamaica’s Waterhouse FC on Wednesday at RFK Stadium. While navigating back to another MLS Cup is priority number one for United, play in CONCACAF is a price for success the team will gladly pay.

The success that led to United’s passage into this year’s CONCACAF Champions League was a surprise. Despite a historically bad run in MLS in 2013, United won the U.S. Open Cup and with the trophy a ticket into the CONCACAF Champions League.

United scored an early victory for MLS as a competition when it won the CONCACAF Champions Cup in 1998. The region’s Champions Cup was the predecessor to the Champions League. As MLS Cup Champions in 1997 United and the Colorado Rapids, runners up in the 1997 MLS Cup, represented MLS in the Champions Cup.

D.C. United entered the competition in the quarterfinal phase and defeated Trinidad and Tobago’s Joe Public. In the semifinals United delivered a surprise with a win over Leon of Mexico. The Champions Cup final was held at R.F.K. Stadium and a goal from Eddie Pope in the 41st minute secured the title with a 1-0 win over Toluca.

The win in the CONCACAF Champions Cup was part of the foundation that established D.C. United as flagship franchise in the early years of MLS. The young league was not just about marketing, but about competition and creating a standard of excellence. United was the team setting the bar for that standard.

The challenge:

  1.  Being the favorite. Seeded in Group 4 of the CONCACAF Champions League, with Panama’s Tauro FC and Jamaica’s Waterhouse FC, United received a favorable draw. It is United’s first appearance in the group stage since the 2009/2010 competition when United made it through as the winner of the 2008 U.S. Open Cup. In its first match United plays a Waterhouse FC side that stunned observers by going to Panama and defeating Tauro FC 2-1 in its first match. With three points already secure, Waterhouse FC can focus on frustrating United and finding a way to a draw on the road. D.C. United chief scout Kurt Morsink made the trip to Panama for Waterhouse’s win over Tauro. The current Jamaican league leaders are an athletic team that will look to counter attack. Romario Campbell has an impressive left foot and scored on a free kick in the second minute to put Waterhouse on its way to victory in Panama. Campbell has a free role under the forwards. Up top 35-year old forward Jermaine Anderson is a target option and can hold the ball to ignite the attack. Anderson was on loan with Aguila of El Salvador where he scored six goals in 15 games. Holding midfielder Vincent Earle also scored against Tauro and goalkeeper Richard McCallum is capable of big saves.
  2.  Depth on display.  We have established D.C. United is a deeper team this year. Now the Black and Red can prove it in the CONCACAF Champions League. After serving the first of his two game suspension on Sunday, forward Eddie Johnson is rested and should have an impact. Collin Martin might be used to support Johnson up front. Martin has responded well every time he has received the opportunity. Jared Jeffery and newly acquired David Estrada should also get a chance impress. Estrada had a very promising United debut in Sunday’s 4-2 win over Colorado.