By Ridge Mahoney Senior Editor TUESDAY:
CONCACAF Champions Cup semifinals GUADALAJARA-D.C. UNITED (TV: Fox Soccer Channel, live, 9:30 pm)
United is counting on a top-notch performance by its rich cast of players and a somewhat subdued one by those of CD Guadalajara Tuesday to reach the CONCACAF Champions Cup finals. The chances are
slim, yet its opponent hasn't been a dominant force at home lately.
Guadalajara lost in Mexican league play last weekend at San Luis, 1-0. That was its first competitive match in 10 days,
since it beat Morelia, 2-1, at the Jalisco Stadium, where its record in the Clausura 2007 season is mediocre: one win, two ties, two defeats.
D.C. United's players should be relatively
well acclimated. They've been training in Guadalajara for more than a week and a 5,000-foot elevation is not nearly as severe as that of Azteca Stadium in Mexico City, which sits 7,342 feet above
sea level. They should be sharper and fitter than in the first leg at RFK Stadium when only a late opportunistic strike by Luciano Emilio
, who has scored
four goals in three Champions Cup games, rescued a 1-1 tie.
Yet there's more at stake for D.C. than advancement, as monumental and historic an achievement as that would be. Another era at
the league's most successful club has dawned: new ownership, a revived if glacially slow-moving stadium project, new players and a new head coach. Brazilian attacker Fred
is slated to make his debut and even fans who expect United to get thumped will be watching to see if Emilio can extend his scoring streak.
Sweeping changes have
brought a different mood that the players have sensed. Defender Bobby Boswell
cites the case of co-owner William Chang
accompanying the team to Honduras for the quarterfinal match against Olimpia.
"He was in the meetings and pretty hands-on. I think he wanted to get a feel for how things were," says
Boswell. "As a player, that speaks a lot. I like to see that. I feel like with him being there he's taken pride in what he's invested in. He cares about it. Our previous owner [Phil Anschutz
], I know he's very busy and has a lot going on, but I think I met him once. I've already talked to our owners and they know who I am and where I'm
Boswell's rise from undrafted developmental player (hometown: Tampa, Fla.) to 2006 Defender of the Year is an inspiring tale, and his inclusion in an issue of Cosmopolitan
last November as a nominee for Bachelor of the Year drew notice as well.
"He was joking around, calling me 'Mr. Cosmo,'" says Boswell. "That
little stuff lets you know he knows the team. I don't want to say it makes you want to play harder but at the same time it does make you more as a unit, and I think the tighter you are as a unit the
better you are as a team."
Regardless of result, surviving 90 minutes - or more - in the searing pressure of Jalisco will certainly forge stronger bonds in the United camp. Guadalajara
doesn't have to beat teams by overpowering them; it victimizes them by running, passing and clicking at a high pace for longer periods than its foes can withstand.
missed assignments and forced errors will severely stretch players like Boswell, who as director of a three-man back line will be faced with hundreds of decisions, many of them critical. Omar Bravo
is a dribbling, slashing threat every time he gets the ball, and Adolfo "Bofo" Bautista
, with only two goals and
one assist so far in the Clausura, is due to bust out with a big game.
For years, Tom Soehn has been cited as the assistant coach most ready to become a head coach. Now he is, and this is
his first major test.
If the teams tie in regulation, a full 30 minutes of overtime will be played, as away goals are not used as a tiebreaker.
Getting that far would be achievement
enough for United, which fears most a repeat of its 2005 visit to Mexico City and a 5-0 pummeling at the hands of UNAM after the first leg ended 1-1. That series, like the 2007 version, was played
in early April. But unlike then, D.C. is not the defending champion and is heading into uncharted territory.