[CONCACAF CHAMPIONS CUP]
After stopping in San Antonio to play MLS opposition, including each other, in the Texas Pro Soccer Festival last week, Houston and D.C. United
begin play Wednesday in the CONCACAF Champions Cup quarterfinals sporting very different lineups than they did last year. In United's case, the look is drastically new.
Both MLS teams are
away in the first leg. United faces a much easier task in Kingston at the Harbour View Stadium (Fox Soccer Channel, 8 p.m. ET); Houston plays CSD Municipal at the inhospitable Estadio Mateo Flores
in Guatemala City (FSC, 10 p.m.).
Yet for both teams, which between them have won three of the last four MLS Cups and won a combined 31 league games last year, the opposition is less
important than getting their changes squared away.
During the offseason, Houston lost attackers Nate Jaqua
and Joseph Ngwenya
to Austrian clubs and defender Ryan
to San Jose in the expansion draft. In their places are young Argentine forward Franco Caraccio
and developmental player Chris Wondolowski
, and ex-United defender
Coach Dominic Kinnear
won't have defender Pat Ianni
and midfielder Stuart Holden
during the CONCACAF quarterfinals. They are also on CONCACAF
duty -- as members of the U.S. under-23 team attempting to qualify for the 2008 Olympic Games. Midfielder Brad Davis
has been hobbled in preseason by a leg injury and isn't expected to play
until the second leg of the quarterfinals.
But the core of Houston's 2006 and 2007 championship teams is still in place: keeper Pat Onstad
, defenders Wade Barrett
and Eddie Robinson
, midfielders Dwayne DeRosario
, Brian Mullan
and Ricardo Clark
and forward Brian Ching
. Richard Mulrooney
, who arrived in a trade
last April, adds another element of continuity Houston will need in this series, and in the semifinals if it should advance.
Caraccio scored his first goal for Houston Sunday at the TPSF in a
1-1 tie with United, which began the game with most of its likely starters: goalie Zach Wells
, defenders Bryan Namoff
, Gonzalo Peralta
and Marc Burch
; midfielders Fred
and Clyde Simms
; and forwards Luciano Emilio
and Jaime Moreno
. Trialist Cezar
, who cannot play in the CONCACAF competition because he has yet to sign a contract,
scored for United. His trial will continue, as will that of Dane Murphy
If Houston's look is a shade or two different, United is the MLS version of "Extreme Makeover."
Wells and Peralta are among United's newcomers. Gone are Troy Perkins, Josh Gros, Christian Gomez, Brian Carroll, Bobby Boswell
and Greg Vanney
, all of whom played at least 15 games last
year. United is more Latin, with Argentine midfielder Marcelo Gallardo
the most renowned of foreign imports that include defenders Peralta (Argentina) and Gonzalo Martinez
goalie Jose Carvallo
(Peru), and forward Franco Neill
(Argentina), as well as English midfielder Dan Stratford
Former teen sensation Santino Quaranta
back to D.C., and powerful teenager Quevas Kirk
, acquired from the Galaxy in exchange Vanney, gives Coach Tom Soehn
additional midfield options. Combative midfielder Ben Olsen
still recovering from multiple offseason ankle surgeries and isn't available.
Soehn is running short of time to hone Peralta and Martinez as the central defensive pairing, work Gallardo
and Neill into his attack, and balance the abilities of Wells and Carvallo before D.C. opens MLS play March 29 at Kansas City. Reserves and trialists garnered much of the minutes in Texas, but
this two-game series against beatable opposition is likely to be the last of the experimental opportunities.