- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Although Major League Soccer’s regular season is still more than six weeks away, D.C. United plays its first competitive game of 2007 tonight against CD Olimpia in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, in the quarterfinals of the CONCACAF Champions’ Cup,

The event, which involves the top clubs from North America, Central America and the Caribbean, kicks off an intense year in which United has the potential to play more than 20 extra games on top of its 30 MLS matches.

“Hopefully, this game will makes us sharp for the MLS season,” United defender Bryan Namoff said.

United advanced to the Champions’ Cup after earning the most points in the 2006 MLS season and claiming the Supporters’ Shield.

Olimpia is the most storied team in Honduras, and the playing conditions won’t be easy. But United midfielder Josh Gros remains unfazed.

“I’m hoping it will be a hostile environment, because those are the type of games you step up for,” Gros said.

United plays the second game of the two-game series at RFK Stadium on March 1 at 7 p.m.

Although United won the Champions’ Cup in 1998, the team has struggled in international competition in recent years. In 2005, United reached the semifinals of the Champions’ Cup after beating Harbour View of Jamaica but lost to Pumas 5-0 in Mexico following a 1-1 tie at RFK.

“We’ve let some of these international games slip through our fingers in the past,” Namoff said. “We definitely need to be smart in how we come out in this game and not get stretched out in the first half-hour.”

If United gets past Olimpia, it will face the winner of the W Connection FC (Trinidad and Tobago) vs. Chivas of Guadalajara (Mexico) series. W Connection won the first leg of that series 2-1 at home.

The Champions’ Cup is important for United and MLS because the winner represents the CONCACAF region at the FIFA World Club Cup in Japan in December.

United arrived in Honduras on Monday and was mobbed by media seeking comment from Brazilian striker Luciano Emilio, who came to United last month from Olimpia after being one of the top goal scorers in the Honduran league.

“Hopefully, Emilio will stick it to them and we can escape with a point,” Gros said. “We need to steal a goal there and look at locking it up at RFK.”

Note— The United fan club, the Screaming Eagles, will hold its 2007 Season Kickoff Shindig at the Rosslyn Spectrum in Arlington on Saturday from 2 to 5 p.m., with United coach Tom Soehn on hand. The event is open to the public.

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