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5. MLS: First out of the gate
January 29th, 2007 1:44AM

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By Ridge Mahoney
Senior Editor, Soccer America


Already D.C. United and Houston are in the news, both for long-term reasons as well as the here-and-now.

Because of their qualification for the CONCACAF Champions' Cup, they petitioned the MLS Players' Union for permission to open preseason camp early. Permission was so granted and both teams start camp Monday, a week earlier than their 11 league rivals.

Early betting - if there is a such a thing regarding MLS - has D.C. and Houston as favorites in their conferences. D.C. posted the league's best record in 2006 before stumbling in the playoffs for the second straight season, and Houston rolled to the MLS Cup title with a strong playoff run.

In addition to their league clashes (the MLS schedule has yet to be finalized) they also will meet in the SuperLiga. The venue for their group meeting Aug. 1 has been shifted from RFK to Robertson Stadium as baseball rears its conflicting head again.

Baseball's Nationals are playing on that date at RFK and so rather than seek an alternate venue close to home, D.C. has agreed to play in Texas. United plays Morelia and Club America in late July before winding up group play in Houston. Only the top two teams advance and in a tough group, that final match will be decisive.

Dynamo coach Dominic Kinnear has overseen a rather tranquil offseason, though catalytic midfielder Dwayne DeRosario is still the subject of trade/transfer/contract speculation.

The past two months in D.C. have been hectic. A rapid-fire series of coaching changes brought Tommy Soehn, chief assistant to former head coach Peter Nowak, full circle back to United for his first assignment as the top man. Teen marquee item Freddy Adu was traded to Real Salt Lake, Alecko Eskandarian is now in Toronto, Luciano Emilio is the latest signing from South America (via Honduras, in this case, for the Brazilian striker).

Soehn had been considered for the recent openings in Kansas City, Dallas, and Chivas USA as well as other jobs the past few years. Curt Onalfo got the job in Kansas City, Soehn interviewed for the Dallas and Chivas USA jobs but pulled out of those discussions in hope of landing his top choice.

"I've been here the last three years helping to build this team and some of our young guys are ready to take their opportunity and run with it," said Soehn, who played with Nowak on the 1998 Chicago team that won the double and also played in Dallas. "We've built up some assets to get players who are exciting players and are going to fit into the structure of our team and they're good people.

"Peter and I, although we're a bit different in personality, we definitely had a chemistry that really worked. Our philosophies were very similar yet we were very different and challenged each other to get the best out of our guys. For that, we'll be friends for life. We went through a lot the past three years. On the field, his reading of the game was probably better than anyone I've ever worked with."

Reading the games and his players will be critical for Soehn. Last year, D.C. blasted through the first half of the season but cooled off in the final months. Jaime Moreno struggled with fatigue and several other players lost the sharpness that had overpowered teams earlier in the season.

"Our club is about winning, our club is about the team first, our team is about doing things the right way, about playing the game in the way that we consider to be the right way," said president Kevin Payne, who hired Soehn as the fifth head coach in team history.

"Those things all sound obvious but you'd be amazed at how many teams are actually not about that stuff. Everybody pays lip service to that stuff but every day is a different equation. I was pretty nervous when Tommy was talking to other teams but fortunately for us, nobody else made him an offer."



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