- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 16, 2008

D.C. United probably didn’t need another tournament as it battles for a MLS playoff spot, but that’s the price for success in league play.

After posting the best record in MLS play in 2007, United earned a place in the new CONCACAF Champions League that will decide the best club in North America, Central America and the Caribbean. United plays its first game in the inaugural event when it takes on Costa Rican champions Deportivo Saprissa at RFK Stadium on Tuesday night. This is the fourth tournament United has entered this year outside of MLS play.

“Right now the most important thing is winning the MLS Cup, but obviously the Champions League is an important goal we set for ourselves,” United coach Tom Soehn said.

The club was hoping to have playmaker Marcelo Gallardo fit for the game, but the team’s designated player has flown back to his native Argentina to work with a specialist as he tries to recover from an abductor strain. Gallardo, the team’s highest-paid player ($1.9 million), has played just 105 minutes since June 29 and will be out of action for at least two more weeks.

“This is a huge game against a huge club,” said Santino Quaranta, who in recent weeks has taken over Gallardo’s role in the midfield with some success. “It’s always special to be involved in these tournaments because you want to represent MLS and your club.”

The Champions League replaces the CONCACAF Champions’ Cup and features the best 24 teams from North America, Central America and the Caribbean. The winner qualifies for next year’s FIFA Club World Cup, in which it will compete against the best clubs in the world. The event is modeled on Europe’s Champions League, which guarantees clubs six home-and-away games in group play. The top teams in the group advance to next year’s knockout stages with the final played in April.

Along with Saprissa, United plays home-and-away games with Cruz Azul of Mexico (at RFK on Oct. 1) and Marathon of Honduras (at RFK on Oct. 29).

It’s vital for United to win at home in the Champions League because games on the road in Mexico and Central America are fraught with difficulty.

“You have to deal with tough atmospheres on the road along with the altitude,” United defender Clyde Simms said.

Saprissa in ranked 106th in the club world rankings, while United is tied with 10 clubs in the 253rd spot. The Central American club is the only non-Mexican team in CONCACAF that has played in the FIFA Club World Cup (2005).

Notes - Midfielder Ivan Guerrero (thigh bruise) and defender Gonzalo Peralta (hamstring) are questionable for the game. … United announced Monday it acquired Ryan Miller after he was waived by Columbus. The 5-foot-10, 165-pound defender was a third-round pick in the 2008 MLS SuperDraft and did not see first-team action with Columbus.

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