By TRAVIS CLARK
It was supposed to be a chance at redemption for D.C. United. A new crack at the CONCACAF Champions League, a competition that saw them post a dismal 0-5-1. But whatever optimism that D.C. coming into the preliminary was quickly diffused by a stubborn LA Firpo opponent that held a reserve-heavy United in check Tuesday night.
Perhaps one of the most revealing points from Tuesday's game was the reaction of Firpo Coach Agustin Castillo to United's starting lineup.
"We had prepared for a totally different team," Castillo said through an interpreter. "But we saw six names on the roster that were different."
This continues a disturbing — yet almost necessary — trend in MLS of starting weaker lineups in international competitions. The game wasn't easy on the eyes, at times resembling what it was: a team in preseason going up against a worn down side in the middle of their domestic campaign.
Regulars like Jaime Moreno and Dejan Jakovic dotted the starting lineup, but Bryan Namoff, Christian Gomez, and Ben Olsen were either relegated to the bench, or left off the team sheet altogether.
It's easy to be critical of that approach, but the reality of the situation is that Soehn made the right moves. With a club fighting for a playoff position, risking a lineup of regular starters could cripple their hopes of qualifying for the postseason — no doubt a priority for D.C. after falling just short last year.
Danny Szetela made his debut for United, starting in the attacking mid slot. However, Soehn soon moved him over to the right wing. His first start in a United uniform was about what you'd expect — a player trying to learn a new system, struggling at times, but certainly showing glimpses of the talent that took him to Europe.
After drawing 1-1, it's certainly not out of the question for D.C. to qualify for the group stages with the away fixture to El Salvador scheduled for August 4.
The trip to Central America will no doubt be made more difficult by the field conditions down in Usulután that Firpo's coach alluded to after the game.
"Obviously the [RFK field] is in perfect shape — we don't have those sort of fields back in El Salvador," Castillo said.
It makes you wonder what kind of pitch D.C. will walk out onto next week. That surely can't bode well for United's chances away. Neither did Soehn's remarks about their approach.
"On Saturday [vs. Houston] we’re going to focus on Saturday and pick up the pieces after that and we’ll worry about Tuesday [at Firpo], but Saturday is a very important game," Soehn said.
A tough trip to Houston awaits D.C. this weekend, as they look to maintain their standing in the Eastern Conference and in position to make the playoffs.
What do you think of the match? Did D.C. take the wrong approach? Are you a United fan and feel aggrieved at their starting lineup? Leave your thoughts below.