- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 18, 2009

D.C. United’s season is starting to get really tricky, really fast.

After downing Salvadoran club C.D. Firpo in a play-in series Aug. 4, United heads to group play in the CONCACAF Champions League. Those six games come on top of the team’s MLS schedule, which means coach Tom Soehn will have to manage his roster wisely. United has an average of one match nearly every four days through the end of the MLS regular season.

First up for United is a trip to Honduran champion C.D. Marathon on Tuesday. The team is hoping to put behind last year’s venture into the inaugural Champions League; United went 0-5-1 in its group, managing just four goals and conceding 14. The team also earned five red cards. United ended its 2008 season with a 4-2 loss to Marathon in which midfielder Santino Quaranta was red-carded.

“We are more of a competitive team now than we were last year,” Quaranta said. “You can’t even compare the two years. We want to do well in this tournament because it’s important for the club, and we didn’t win a game last year, so we want to build on that.”

United also plays home-and-away games against Mexico club Toluca and defending Trinidad and Tobago champion San Juan Jabloteh in Group B of the 16-team event. The top two teams in each group advance to the quarterfinals, which take place next year.

United has had success in Honduras before. The club defeated C.D. Olimpia 4-1 in 2007, but it’s never an easy place to play.

“It’s a home-and-away series,” Soehn said. “It’s not just about one game but two games, and you have to manage your roster accordingly.”

But the last thing D.C. United needs right now is an overseas trip. The club is stuck in the middle of a tough schedule and fell under the MLS playoff cutoff following Saturday’s 2-0 loss at Toronto FC. United returns to MLS action Saturday when it hosts the Los Angeles Galaxy.

“It doesn’t get easier for us,” defender Dejan Jakovic said. “This is going to be a tough game. We have to look at the guys we have - the guys that are healthy - and try and field the best players.”

The winner of the Champions League, which also includes the Houston Dynamo and Chicago Fire of MLS this year, qualifies to play in the FIFA Club World Cup.

In June, United president Kevin Payne said international games were important for his club.

“We had to decide the MLS Cup is the top priority for us, but international play has always been a big part of this club and we really want to redeem ourselves,” Payne said. “We don’t think last year was a very good representation of who we are.”

Notes - Midfielders Ben Olsen and Danny Szetela, who missed the Toronto game, made the trip to Honduras, as did the club’s new signings, defenders Julius James and David Habarugira. Midfielder Fred is suspended for the Marathon match after earning a red card against Firpo.

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