The last thing D.C. United needed was another game. Banged up by injuries and desperate to get back into the MLS playoff picture, United must change gears Wednesday to deal with Mexican powerhouse Cruz Azul in the Champions League at RFK Stadium. After losing its first two games in the tournament, United must win to have any hope of advancing.
United coach Tom Soehn will field a number of second-tier players in order to rest key starters for Saturday’s game against Chivas USA.
“We are taking some of the better soccer IQ’s off the field, but we need to make up for that with some fight and some bite, and lots of times it’s the young guys that do that because they are out to prove something,” Soehn said.
One of those players likely to start is midfielder Joe Vide.
“We are not by any means giving up on this game. We want to go out and put on a good performance,” Vide said.
Soehn gave most of his starters the day off from practice Tuesday. One key player training was star midfielder Marcelo Gallardo, who has returned from 15 days of treatment in his native Argentina for an abductor strain. Gallardo didn’t think he would play Wednesday. Soehn didn’t rule him out - “We will evaluate how he feels overall” - but will likely rest him until Saturday.
“I’m happy to be able to come back and help them out this season because it’s even harder just to sit and watch them go through this bad moment,” Gallardo said.
United is winless in six games (0-5-1) since winning the U.S. Open Cup on Sept. 3, and needs a victory to boost morale.
“We’ve forgotten what winning feels like,” defender Marc Burch said.
United goes into the Wednesday game coming off 3-0 loss at FC Dallas, while Cruz Azul suffered a 2-0 loss to Club America in the Mexican league. It’s the first meeting between the clubs. United has suffered four consecutive losses to Latin American teams (Chivas and Atlante in the Superliga, and Saprissa and Marathon in Champions League).
United still faces difficult road trips to Central America and a loss against Cruz Azul would likely doom it in the event.
“I wouldn’t say we have hoisted the white flag, but if we get a win at home it’s very important,” Burch said. “We still have four games left [in the Champions League] and if you are 4-2 in this tournament, you are in good shape, but we also know that we have to go to Mexico and Costa Rica and no American team has won in those places.”
Cruz Azul lost its first game in the tournament at CD Marathon in Honduras, but then beat Saprissa of Costa Rica at home 4-1.
The Champions League features the best 24 teams from North America, Central America and the Caribbean. The winner qualifies for next year’s FIFA Club World Cup. The top teams in each group advance to next year’s knockout stages with the final played in April.