Tuesday, April 3, 2007

D.C. United faces a daunting task tonight. The flagship team of Major League Soccer is looking for a win at Mexican giant CD Guadalajara (Chivas) in the second game of the CONCACAF Champions’ Cup semifinals. In the first game of the total-goal series on March 15, United held Chivas, Mexico’s most storied team, to a 1-1 tie at RFK Stadium before a crowd of more than 26,000.

No American team has ever won in Mexico, meaning history is against United.

“It’s a tough task. But why not us?” United midfielder Ben Olsen said. “This team can do it. I think this is a special team and special teams can go down there and win. We’ve yet to prove that we are that special team. Hopefully this year we can start separating ourselves from some other teams in MLS in these competitions.”

This is such a big game for United that the club has been training for the past 10 days in the hills outside of Guadalajara, Mexico’s second biggest city situated at more than 5,000 feet above sea level.

United will depend on the skills of Brazilian striker Luciano Emilio, who gave the team a lifeline in the game at RFK and has notched four goals in three games in the Champions’ Cup.

“It’s a very important game and the winner takes all,” United coach Tom Soehn said. “It’s two teams going into battle. The pressure is on them, too. It’s zero-zero. We are going to get chances and they will get chances. Whichever team puts those chances away will be the winner.”

Adding to United’s optimism is the addition of another Brazilian signing, midfielder Fred, who officially joined the club from Australian champion Melbourne Victory last week. Fred was the most outstanding player in the Australian league and is expected to make his debut for United tonight.

“You win this and we go to the finals with a chance of reaching the world championship, so this is a huge game,” midfielder Josh Gros said. “We need to keep the ball better. I don’t think we connected enough with each other in the first game.”

If United gets past Chivas and reaches the final of the Champions’ Cup, it will be guaranteed entry into either the prestigious FIFA Club World Cup in Japan in December (for the Champions’ Cup winner) or the Copa Sudamericana, a South American club event (for the runner-up).

United was mauled its last game in Mexico, losing 5-0 to Pumas UNAM in a Champions’ Cup game in 2005.

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