- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 12, 2008

D.C. United coach Tom Soehn likes to use international competitions to evaluate the progress of his team. Considering he is trying to integrate five new South American players, including Argentine star Marcelo Gallardo, for the upcoming MLS season, that process may never be more important than this year.

With that in mind, Soehn and D.C. United begin a two-game quarterfinal series at Jamaican champion Harbour View FC tonight in the last CONCACAF Champions’ Cup.

“We put a lot of priority on international competitions,” Soehn said. “We are able to gauge where we are as a team, and these competitions are outstanding experiences for our young guys.”

The return game of the series is at RFK Stadium on Tuesday. The winner of the competition advances to the FIFA Club World Cup in Japan in December, which includes the champions of FIFA’s six continental confederations.

“It’s a really big tournament for the league and a good starter for us,” said defender Marc Burch, who will play in his first overseas game for United.

The CONCACAF Champions League, similar to Europe’s Champions League with a group stage, will replace the CONCACAF Cup. United also will play in the new tournament, which starts in September and ends next April.

United played in three international tournaments last year — the CONCACAF Cup, Copa Sudamericana and the SuperLiga — and failed to win any of them.

“At the end of the year we talked about how we gave up some chances to prove ourselves as a club, and I think this is a year we have to win some of these tournaments,” Burch said.

United has played Harbour View before, winning 2-1 in both games in the 2005 Champions Cup before losing to Mexican team Pumas 5-0 in the semifinals after a 1-1 tie at RFK Stadium.

United flew to Jamaica from Texas, where it recently beat Chivas USA and Toronto FC before tying the Houston Dynamo in a preseason exhibition event.

In the past, United has done well in the early stages of the CONCACAF Cup but come up short against Mexican teams.

United beat Honduran team Olimpia 7-3 on aggregate goals in the two-game quarterfinals series last year but lost at Mexican club Chivas Guadalajara 2-1 after a 1-1 home tie.

“It’s important to do well for our club and for the league,” United midfielder Clyde Simms said. “We are trying to grow as a league and get international recognition, and step one is to start winning some of these tournaments.”

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