D.C. United arrived by overnight flight into the Chilean capital of Santiago, and after resting up during the day, jumped right into a one-hour training session Wednesday that consisted mainly of stretching and a bit of 5-on-5.
The defending MLS Cup champion have traveled here to South America for Thursday's second leg of their Copa Sudamericana series against Universidad Catolica, after the teams played to a 1-1 draw in Washington, D.C. last Tuesday.
"We know we´ve got to come in and get more than a 0-0 tie, and it's going to be a big task for us," said United goalkeeper Nick Rimando. "But I think we're up for it, we know what we're against. We can get a result."
The winner on aggregate advances to the quarterfinals against either Banfield of Argentina or Fluminense of Brazil -- Fluminense won the first leg 3-1 at home, with the second leg next Wednesday. Catolica's goal at RFK Stadium could be all-important, because a 0-0 tie would send the Chilean club through to the quarterfinals on away goals. A 1-1 tie on Thursday night would send the game to penalty kicks, while a 2-2 tie would mean United advance.
"You can't let the ball bounce like that. Something like that can cost us this tournament," Rimando said. "If we take goals like that here, we could be out of the tournament.
Catolica's home ground, Estadio San Carlos de Apoquindo, sits high above Santiago in the tony barrio of Las Condes, the capital city's most well-heeled neighborhood. Actually, you have to take that on faith -- because you can't see the rest of the city from up there in the foothills of the Andean cordillera, due to the notorious smog. In fact, you can't see the Andes too well, either.
United took the day lightly, as the team is carrying knocks and pings from Saturday's rough victory against the Colorado Rapids, and head coach Peter Nowak would rather the boys save it for Thursday's game.
"We're coming off a pretty rough game Saturday with Colorado, so I just want the guys to rest up," Nowak said.
The local press had to clamor a bit just to get into the complex, but once the team arrived everyone was allowed to observe from a platform just a bit above the training pitch. The stadium was constructed for the club 15 years ago -- until then they had to share the National Stadium and a few others with Santiago rivals.
"It's a huge cup, there are lots of historical teams here, and it puts up against them, to see how far we can go," Rimando said. "D.C. United isn't new to these competitions, though. We've won a couple. It'd be good to be part of that again this year."
The locals know their MLS history, and rattle off the names of the few Chileans who've made it to North America: Victor Mella (a nifty goalscorer for San Jose Earthquakes) and Marcelo Vega (MetroStars, who the Chilean journalists admit only went to the USA 'para festejar' - to party).
United had better be prepared for Thursday, because the last Copa Sudamericana match played at San Carlos was Catolica's 5-0 demolition of Alianza Atletico of Peru in August. (They also defeated intercity rivals Universidad de Chile there earlier that month 2-1.)
"It's not going to be easy, but we're motivated. We've come here to play, and tomorrow we're playing to win," said Jaime Moreno. "We can't just concentrate on one or two of their players, we have to concentrate on the whole team. You know, football is full of surprises."
San Carlos holds about 12,000, and there promises to be a nearly full house of raucous hometown supporters, if the local journalists who cover the team are to be believed. The winner will then go on to a grand welcoming in either Buenos Aires (Banfield) or Rio de Janeiro (Fluminense).
"It's a two-way street. They had to come play us, so we have to come down here and play them in their stadium," Rimando said. "I think we're fine, we'll get some sleep and be ready for the game tomorrow."
Brian Kluepfel is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.