No rest for weary United this week

D.C. United looked drained after Wednesday's 5-0 defeat at the hands of Mexican champions Pumas UNAM, a result that sends the Black-and-Red tumbling out of the CONCACAF Champions' Cup.

But the squad has little time to lick its wounds, or even catch a breath in Mexico City's rarified air. United flew directly from the Mexican capital to Columbus, Ohio, on Thursday, in preparation for Friday night's Eastern Conference showdown with the Crew.

One could easily argue that the MLS schedulers have proven none too friendly to D.C., who will be playing their fifth match in 14 days when they step out on the pitch at Crew Stadium. But true to form, head coach Peter Nowak and his players are making no excuses.

"We have to deal with the situation," said Nowak. "We know what we have to do, the way we're going to play. We have to find our way to get all these little distractions out of our heads, and keep our heads in the game."

Barely a year into his coaching career, the former Chicago Fire captain has already earned a reputation for his intense training sessions and uncompromising work ethic. That approach was put on display during a rigorous United preseason that took the squad to Florida, Jamaica, Hawaii and South Carolina.

"We have many games," said Nowak, "but they worked pretty (hard) in the preseason. I think we were ready from the beginning of the season, to manage these games with the fitness part. So far they've done a pretty good job."

While arduous for players, staff and their families, that globetrotting itinerary could pay dividends now, as the coaching staff is forced to scale back practices in order to conserve tired legs.

"Yeah, I think we're being pretty smart with how we're training," said midfielder Josh Gros. "It's not easy playing two games in 48 hours, but we're definitely being smart about it. I think we're in pretty good shape."

Gros, who likely finds soccer workouts a breeze in comparison to the summer he spent at Marine Corps officer training school before his senior year at Rutgers, said he will be relieved to reach Columbus after a harrowing trip south.

"I'm not thrilled about going to Mexico, to be honest," he said before Wednesday's match against Pumas. "I'm not a big fan of leaving the United States. I love America. Anytime I have to leave, I'm not happy."

Gros and his teammates can look forward to relative normalcy next week, when the Black-and-Red return to RFK Stadium in search of their first home win of the season against the New England Revolution on April 23.

Charles Boehm is a contributor to This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.