Rejuvenation sometimes can come from unexpected places. For D.C. United, it has come from its reserve players in a tournament in which the club is a sizeable underdog.
In its last outing in the CONCACAF Champions League, a young and feisty D.C. United team earned a 2-2 draw in tough conditions at Saprissa in Costa Rica on Oct. 9.
Following the tie, D.C. United has been on an upswing in league play: United earned a scoreless road tie against the two-time MLS champion Houston Dynamo, then beat the playoff-bound New England Revolution at home 2-1.
United returns to Champions League action on Tuesday at Cruz Azul in Mexico City.
“Over the last couple of weeks, the young guys through this [event] have rejuvenated the team,” assistant coach Chad Ashton said.
Ashton will be on the sidelines in Mexico in place of coach Tom Soehn, who was red-carded at Saprissa. Injured midfielder Ben Olsen will assist Ashton.
Reserve striker Francis Doe is one United player who has brought energy to the lineup after performing well in the Champions League. Doe scored a goal in the 2-2 tie at Saprissa. He followed that with two goals in United's win over the Revolution.
”I got my scoring game back from that game in Costa Rica,” Doe said.
“When you go into those environments and play well it does a lot for your confidence, and Francis is a great example of that,” Ashton said.
United again will travel with a lineup consisting mostly of reserves.
Making the trip to Mexico will be goalies James Thorpe and Louis Crayton; defenders Devon McTavish, Marc Burch, Pat Carroll, Gonzalo Martinez, Mike Zaher and Bryan Namoff; midfielders Quavas Kirk, Ryan Miller, Craig Thompson, Thabiso Khumalo and Clyde Simms; and forwards Francis Doe and Ryan Cordeiro.
United will face a hostile crowd and a tough task against Cruz Azul: No American club has been able to win in Mexico. In order to deal with the altitude in Mexico City, the club flew out Monday afternoon.
United (0-3-1) remains at the bottom of Group A with one point, while Cruz Azul, Saprissa and Marathon of Honduras all have seven points. In order for United to advance, it would have to win big in its last two games and see Saprissa win its last two games by large margins.
The rest of United's senior players will remain at home and prepare for the club's last game of the MLS season at the Columbus Crew on Sunday, when they hope a strong effort in the Champions League will boost the team again.
Note - Forward Jaime Moreno announced he will retire from international play with the Bolivian national team following Wednesday's match against El Salvador at RFK Stadium.