Behind the badge: Bye-bye Earnie
D.C. United learned its quarterfinal opponent in next spring's CONCACAF Champions Cup last Wednesday. Harbour View FC advanced to meet United after defeating Tivoli Gardens FC 3-2 on aggregate in the "All-Jamaican" CFU (Caribbean Football Union) Club Tournament Final in Kingston. After the first leg ended in a 1-1 draw at the Harbour View Mini-Stadium, Harbour View won the second leg over the host Tivoli Gardens 2-1 at the Edward Seaga Sports Complex.
The Black-and-Red are currently scheduled to host Harbour View FC on March 9, before traveling to face the same team in Jamaica on March 16. Times and locations of both matches will be determined at a later date. Should United advance to the semifinal round, the club would face the winner of Pumas UNAM (MEX) and CD Olimpia (HON) on April 6 and 13. Other pairings have CF Monterrey (MEX) meeting CSD Municipal (GUA) and the Kansas City Wizards facing Deportivo Saprissa (CRC). The championship series is set for May 4 and 11 with the winner of the 2005 CONCACAF Champions' Cup advancing to the FIFA Club World Championship to be held in Japan in December of next year.
With several roster spots already available due to an expanded player roster and the departure of three more members of the Black-and-Red through the MLS expansion draft, United's technical staff is hard at work preparing a team to defend the 2004 MLS Cup Championship.
Another opening developed with last week's announcement out of Holland that Earnie Stewart had signed to finish his career with his first professional club, VVV Venlo. Furthermore, the future of United captain Ryan Nelsen remains up in the air. A host of teams, including D.C. United, are vying for the services of the New Zealand defender, but a decision is not expected until the start of the New Year.
Stewart officially returned to VVV Venlo last Thursday, signing an 18-month contract with the Dutch second division team. The 35-year-old midfielder began his career at Venlo in 1989 and played 66 games with the club before spending more than a decade with Willem II Tilberg and NAC Breda and two years with the Black-and-Red. Venlo currently sits in fourth place in the league. The team also said that Stewart might joining its coaching staff after his retirement.
Nelsen recently returned to the United States for the holidays following a trial with the Blackburn Rovers. Nelsen will entertain offers from the English Premiership side and several other teams before determining his next playing destination.
In the meantime, United's technical staff is scouring the globe for possible marquee replacements as well as preparing to fill the club's expanded roster through the 2005 SuperDraft. Technical director Dave Kasper and assistant coach Tom Soehn recently returned to the area following a scouting trip to Argentina. The two saw several games featuring Argentine first division sides and have located multiple possible targets. The club plans to have all new signings in uniform for Champions Cup play.
In the meantime, United head coach Peter Nowak and assistant coach Mark Simpson were in Los Angeles to scout the NCAA Final Four at The Home Depot Center. The College Cup tournament, won by Indiana University for a second straight year, provides a look at some of the best collegiate players in the nation. The staff will also be represented in L.A. for the 2005 adidas MLS Player Combine January 8-11, 2005.
The 2005 MLS Cup SuperDraft is scheduled to begin at 12 p.m. on Jan. 14 in Baltimore, Md. D.C. United hold picks in the first round (12th overall), second round (16th overall) and fifth round (60th overall), though the MetroStars have the right to receive United's first selection as a result of the trade that returned Jaime Moreno to Washington, D.C.
The team will gather in late January in order to begin preparation for the 2005 Champions Cup in and the defense of their MLS Cup title.