Concacaf Champions League/Open Cup vs. Big Money Friendly – Which should DC United focus on?

Kevin Payne and Tom Soehn face increasing questions about their handling of United’s different competitions.

Here in Washington, August is a month of certainties:

  • The weather will turn its most hot and humid
  • The Redskins will open training camp to overkill media coverage (WHAT ARE THEY EATING? WHAT’S WRONG WITH THAT GUY’S KNEE? WHERE IS OUR NEW PUNTER? etc.)
  • … and DC United fans, made grumpy by the sweltering, miserable heat and the end of the annual 2 or 3 week break from constant Redskins media coverage begin to turn on themselves and light up Bigsoccer and RFK’s Lot 8 with furious debate and name-calling.

And so this great tradition has continued, following in the footsteps of such great internecine battles as, “Rongen must go!/Rongen must stay!” “Albright should be traded for his sins”/”Albright should be killed for his sins”*, and “Soehn must go!” vs. “Kasper must go!” comes this year’s argument over whether United was right to put such an apparent marketing focus on this weekend’s friendly against Real Madrid versus focusing both on and off the field on the league matches, US Open Cup final, and the Concacaf Champions League.

Let me set the scene for you. Late July and early August are jam packed with matches including an Open Cup semifinal, four road league matches, a two-legged qualifying round against Firpo and the friendly against Real Madrid. Overlaid on all of this is the fact that United’s form has simply plummeted since about mid-June.

In the midst of what is approaching a crisis for the team on-the-field, enormous discontent has risen amongst supporters that the club has been “overly focused” on the Real Madrid match as evidenced through United’s huge marketing push for that match in lieu of further marketing the Open Cup and league matches. Despite all the Real Madrid marketing, our actual attendance is down this year and some fans say that is a result of all the Madrid focus.

This all really came to a head last week when United sent out a makeshift lineup (four, maybe, five normal starters out there) in the home leg against Firpo who gave up an utter joke of an away goal to Firpo and were gifted a penalty en route to a stultifying 1-1 draw. Then they went out with a nearly first-team lineup and wet the bed against Houston (comeback or not).

This brings us to the Open Cup second-leg tonight against Firpo. Will DC put out a first-team lineup tonight in San Salvador or elect to rest guys for the Madrid friendly?

The increasing unrest led Kevin Payne to release a statement saying, “D.C. United is absolutely taking tonight’s game against Firpo seriously. International competition has always been an important part of United culture. This includes official competitions such as CONCACAF Champions League, but also includes competing with top European and South American clubs with whom all of our fans are familiar. We’re taking both games this week extremely seriously.”

Guess what – DC United shouldn’t take tonight’s Champions League match seriously. Punt it. They should go and lose by a reasonably non-shameful score and get back to DC.

Here’s why.

DC has zero chance of even getting close to qualifying out of the group stage of the Champions League (with Toluca and Marathon in our group) and the extra travel and matches associated with the CCL group phase will leave our injury-prone squad utterly decimated during a tense playoff run that’s looking increasingly likely as our form continues downwards.

MLS teams face the CCL with one hand tied behind our backs because of the salary cap and roster limits, so really.. other than placating Jack Warner during World Cup bid (a legit concern) should we care?

I don’t care that it’s our Continental Club Championship and I don’t think we have a duty to try and win it. That would be true if we were properly allowed to try and win it. I suspect if a very good MLS team, when healthy and in good run of form, could possibly win it, but with DC facing its usual combination of old, unfit, injury-prone players, an increasingly clueless coaching staff and lackluster late-season form, I would like to find one DC fan who really thinks we have a chance in hell of even escaping the group phase, if we were to reach it.

I only care about the stuff we have a chance to accomplish. That includes:

  • Making the playoffs after missing out in 2008
  • Winning the Open Cup, though the stupid tiff between Payne and Hanauer may have put the Sounders in “Eff-you” mode for that match.
  • Playing well enough in the 1st half against Madrid to not embarrass ourselves, before pulling our starters of at halftime

It’s a lot more possible for United to succeed in the first half of the Real Madrid match, on a massive stage, than it is to do it in relative obscurity over the next eight months in the Champions League. That’s why I think it’s completely reasonable and understandable for United to punt the Champions League tonight and get on with the serious business of getting its form back on the right track going into the league matches at Toronto, home to LA, at Chicago and at Dallas.

I’ll wrap this up with this quick defense of the organization’s enormous marketing push behind the Madrid match. People in the know tell me that United has already passed the point where all ticket sales are now pure revenue for the club. This means it makes perfect sense for them to push and push to get every last dollar it can out of this match.

For all the veneer of success that this club likes to wave around such as its fans, increasingly distant silverware(no real trophies since 2004, remember), and its formerly brilliant star players, remember that this is a club that hemorrhages money through its continued inability to solve the stadium riddle and sits on the verge of and in need of a big rebuild of both of its coaching staff and of its core group of veteran players. If I were DC, I’d jump on the chance to grab as much dough as I could out of this Madrid friendly too, especially as there increasingly looks like no guarantee of playoff revenue this year.

* Was there ever a constituency for Albright to stay in DC? I don’t really remember one.


4 thoughts on “Concacaf Champions League/Open Cup vs. Big Money Friendly – Which should DC United focus on?

  1. The Open Cup is a sort of real trophy.

    But otherwise I totally agree. This CCL thing is a waste of the team’s resources. Six more matches at this time of year is a needless distraction. While I wish they had just played this Madrid game at home instead of FedEx and not priced the tickets to the stratosphere somebody is buying them. It just won’t be me. So if they team actually has a chance to grab some cash from a bunch of yahoo Eurosnobs all the better.

    All the marketing in the world isn’t going to make the Open Cup final into a big event on a weeknight. People can complain about KP all they want, but the dude’s got a pretty good track record.

  2. In my view, it is too bad a semi-pro trophy, played in garbage venues like Starfire with the low-end of the MLS rosters is given precedence to competing with Toluca.

    USOC should be a great, prestigious tournament, but it isn’t; it is this weary, half-broken thing that creates more pain than pleasure. The thoroughly *awful* match between Houston and Seattle a few weeks ago is indicative of the kind of match this tournament produces. That game was sub-rate, sloppy and dreadfully officiated on a dangerous pitch.

    The USOC produces a lot of schedule clutter, for a tournament most MLS teams field sub-par squads for…and has no television exposure and no legitimate prestige except a strong tie to ancient history. I say MLS should just dump the thing and let USL squabble over it.

    The CCL on the other hand, is largely unconquered territory and pits MLS against the best Mexico and Costa Rica has to offer and rewards the winner with a chance to go toe-to-toe with CONMEBOL and Europa’s biggest and brightest.

    Friendlies are nice, they keep our teams lucrative…but beyond the Shield and MLS Cup, the CCL carries the most prestige and challenge. Good teams like challenges. Good teams realize that challenges like this make your level of competition better when you rise to the occasion to greet them.

    I hope DC rises to the occasion…I’ll be rooting for them. I’d like to see MLS make some noise in this tournament for a change.

  3. To be honest, as a Sounders fan I was more excited about recent U.S. Open Cup games than the contests against Chelsea and Barcelona, simply because they meant something. Don’t get me wrong, it was cool to see Chelsea and (will be to see) Barcelona in Seattle, but it just did not get my adrenaline going like meaningful matches do. Now as far as marketing goes, I know how much money and prestige those friendlies create and have no problem with that, but some of that marketing energy does need to be reserved for games that matter because those are the ones that can get fans addicted and coming back for more.

    Also, the CCL needs a serious revamp in terms of scheduling. In my opinion, they need to play closer to the same dates the UEFA Champions League plays.

    For example, play group stages during these ranges:

    *Aug. 18-20 (currently Aug. 18-20)
    *Sept. 15-17 (currently Aug. 25-27)
    *Sept. 29-Oct. 1 (currently Sept. 15-17)
    *Oct. 20-22 (currently Sept. 22-24)
    *Nov. 24-26 (currently Sept. 28-Oct. 1)
    *Dec. 8-10 (currently Oct. 20-22)

    This way the games are no longer grouped together in back-to-back-to-back weeks (as is, there is incredible fixture congestion from Sept. 15-Oct. 1) and is more spread out.

    The biggest issue would be the Dec. 8-10 date range as well as Nov. 24-26 if a team that did not make – or go far in – the playoffs is in the group stages. Both for logistical (do we want to keep those teams together for that long for 1-2 games?) and weather (New England in December?) reasons.

    I know no solution is perfect, but something has got to be done to allow teams to best be able to place some of its focus on the tournament. Maybe not all, but some, because there is a lot of potential with this tournament that not being realized.

  4. It’s a good thing I didn’t see this two days ago; I saved myself two days of boiling blood.

    There are too many things I disagree with in this article, so I’ll just pick one: no real trophies since 2004? The necessary implication is that the only real domestic trophy DCU has ever won — indeed, the only real domestic trophy in existence — is MLS Cup, which is even goofier than Osorio’s post-match quotes.

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