- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 15, 2007

On one level, tonight’s first leg of the CONCACAF Champions’ Cup semifinals at RFK Stadium between D.C. United and CD Guadalajara features the most successful teams on each side of the Rio Grande. On another, it’s the latest installment in the battle for bragging rights between Mexico and the United States on the soccer field.

“It’s a huge game with a lot of elements involved,” United midfielder Ben Olsen said of his team’s matchup with the team nicknamed Chivas. “It’s vital for our league not just to be in these tournaments but to do well.”

Club officials said yesterday that 17,000 tickets had been sold and a crowd of 22,000-plus was expected.

If United gets past Chivas and reaches the final of the Champions’ Cup it will be guaranteed entry into another international tournament. The winner of the Champions’ Cup gets to play in the prestigious FIFA World Cup in Japan in December, while the runner-up will play in the Copa Sudamericana, a South American club event.

United has won an MLS-best four league titles, while Chivas has won 11 championships in Mexico. Chivas is the only team in Mexico that fields an entire roster of Mexican-born players. Its sister team, Chivas USA of MLS, plays in Carson, Calif.

“Any time you match yourself up against anybody outside your country, you are going to gauge where you are in relation to them,” United coach Tom Soehn said. “And the rest of the world is going to gauge where we are at.”

On the national level, Mexico was once dominant against the United States, but that has changed. Mexican fans are still sore over the loss to the United States at the 2002 World Cup. Last month the U.S. team defeated Mexico 2-0 in Glendale, Ariz., before a pro-Mexican sellout crowd of 64,462. Four players on the Chivas team — Adolfo Bautista, Omar Bravo, Alberto Medina and Gerardo Galindo — were on that losing Mexican team roster.

United needs to get most of its work done tonight in the total-goals series because the return game in Mexico on April 3 will be challenging. The last time United played in Mexico it was mauled 5-0 by Pumas UNAM in a Champions’ Cup game in 2005.

“The first 15 minutes will be crucial to the outcome of the game,” United defender Bryan Namoff said. “We are still in preseason going up against a team that’s probably pretty fit and sharp going through the course of their season.”

Chivas is well into its season and leads Group 1 in the Mexican “Clausura” with a 5-1-3 record for 18 points.

Soehn has been studying tapes of past Chivas games.

“Most times when you get two teams like this, the team that takes its chances will come out the winner,” Soehn said.

United will be looking to new Brazilian striker Luciano Emilio to continue his scoring ways. Emilio notched three goals in the quarterfinal two-game series with Olimpia of Honduras.

Troy Perkins, United’s All-Star goalie, should be ready to play after recovering from a quadriceps injury he suffered in the last game against Olimpia.

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