THE HOME DEPOT CENTER
12 noon PT (ABC)
The 2005 Major League Soccer season kicks off in tantalizing fashion on Saturday when defending MLS champion D.C. United head cross-country to face expansion Chivas USA in that club's first-ever match. It's a match full of intriguing sub-plots: For D.C. United, it's their first league match since that return to glory in the MLS Cup Final on the same field. And what sort of reaction will they receive from the Chivas crowd - and what kind of crowd will fill the HDC? And how about Chivas USA coach Thomas Rongen - who in his last stint with the league guided D.C. United, including lifting the Alan I. Rothenberg Trophy in 1999.
REFEREE: Kevin Stott. SAR (bench): Craig Lowry; JAR (opposite): Chris Strickland; 4th: Ramon Hernandez
MLS Career: 108 games; FC/gm: 26.7; Y/gm: 3.4; R: 29; pens: 19
Games involving Chivas USA: first game
Games involving United: P26 W14 L9 T3; FC/gm: 26.7; Y/gm: 3.2; R: 9; pens: 4
INJURY REPORT: CHIVAS USA - OUT: Martin Zuniga (L knee injury); DF Armando Begines (broken collarbone) ... D.C. UNITED - OUT: MF Dema Kovalenko (Jones fracture)
INTERNATIONAL ABSENCES: none
SUSPENDED: D.C. UNITED: Dema Kovalenko (through April 3)
HEAD-TO-HEADThis is of course the first meeting between the two clubs in the first-ever match for Chivas USA.
At The Home Depot Center, D.C. United has won one, lost one and tied one. They lost to Los Angeles Galaxy in extra time in their first game in Carson, then last year, played to a draw with the Galaxy during the regular season before posting the victory against Kansas City Wizards in the MLS Cup Final.
Coaches record: Thomas Rongen vs. DC: P12 W2 L10 D0 ... Peter Nowak v CDC: first game
ALL-TIME: first meeting
CD CHIVAS USA
It's been a rocky start for Chivas USA, but now all is new again as the club's inaugural match looms. While much has been made of the club's ties with 'parent' club Chivas de Guadalajara, chances are there will be just two players of Mexican origin in the starting lineup in the opener, and the club will be guided by a Dutchman who has lived in the USA for better than two decades.
Chivas played their final preseason game last Saturday night at The Home Depot Center, falling to Spanish Primera Division side CA Osasuna 1-0 in the inaugural edition of the 'Copa Fundación Chivas de Corazón'. A goal from Valdo on 70 minutes provided the victory for the side coached by Javier Aguirre, the former Mexican national team and Los Angeles Aztecs midfielder (where he played with Chivas boss Thomas Rongen).
Here's Rongen's team on the night: Brad Guzan - Orlando Pérez, Aarón López, Ryan Suárez (Alfonso Loera 66), Ezra Hendrickson - Francisco Gómez, Ramón Ramírez, Héctor Cuadros (Francisco Mendoza 59) - Arturo Torres (Isaac Romo 60), Matt Taylor, Thiago Martins
While looking to play in a 3-4-3 scheme like mother club Chivas de Guadalajara, Rongen has reverted to four in the back - making the change after Chivas USA allowed 12 goals in matches against the U.S. national team, San Jose Earthquakes and Atlante of the Mexican Primera Division.
It will likely contain Ryan Suarez and Aaron Lopez centrally, with Ezra Hendrickson on the left and Orlando Perez on the right. "It gives more security," Hendrickson told The Los Angeles Times. "MLS is such a faster-paced game that we need that extra security back there."
Added Suarez: "(It) requires your midfield to run up and down and obviously the Mexican way is not running up and down. It's very much touch-the-ball and keep possession throughout. It's going to be really hard in MLS to play that system where there's so much pressure because the American player runs for 90 minutes. "They're not quite used to that yet, the [Mexican] player."
Rongen has also found it difficult to put the right pieces together in attack. Thiago Martins or Isaac Romo will be the spearhead, with Arturo Torres and Matt Taylor on the flanks. Exciting young Luis Alonso Sandoval returned to Mexico in one of a number of transitional difficulties the club has faced.
"With three attackers, it's important that we get more wing play, we get more crosses and get more numbers in the box and that's clearly not happening," said Rongen. "It's a combination of lack of service and I think lack of still being on the same page with our attacking crew."
Additionally, playmaker Hector Cuadros has found his role trying. "Hector is on paper our No. 10, our creator but we need to get a little more out of him and out of that position as well," Rongen said.
Martin Zuniga, another Mexican veteran expected to be a key component, is injured along with defender Armando Begines. 20-year-old Brad Guzan, the second overall pick in this year's SuperDraft, will start in goal.
Douglas Sequeira played the full match in both of Costa Rica's World Cup qualifying matches last week, a 2-1 victory at home against Panama, and a scoreless draw away to Trinidad & Tobago.
At the start of the season a year ago, it was Freddy Adu and new coach Peter Nowak who were the focus of all observers looking at United. Now, a year later, it's the return of the club to the top of the MLS heap with a record fourth MLS championship that dominates discussion. To be sure, there are a couple of questions from last year's side still to be answered, but United showed they lost none of their fight in staying alive in the CONCACAF Champions Cup before the start of the league season.
United concluded their preseason on March 25 with a 3-0 victory against the Columbus Crew in the final game of the Carolina Challenge Cup in Charleston, S.C. Mike Petke put United ahead on four minutes, then a perfectly struck free kick from Christian Gomez doubled the lead (20). Jaime Moreno completed the scoreline with a 50th-minute goal.
After using his reserves much of the first two games of the event, United boss Peter Nowak gave his first-choice lineup a full run-out in the third game. Here's the team: Nick Rimando, Brandon Prideaux (Bryan Namoff 67), Mike Petke, Bobby Boswell (David Stokes 76), Steve Guppy (Eliseo Quintanilla 72), Christian Gomez (Freddy Adu 67), Ben Olsen (Clyde Simms 72), Brian Carroll, Josh Gros, Santino Quaranta, Jaime Moreno (Jamil Walker 80)
United began the tournament with a 2-0 loss to the San Jose Earthquakes, then playing to a 2-2 draw with host Charleston Battery of the USL First Division (second tier).
United advanced to the semifinals of the CONCACAF Champions Cup with a 4-2 victory on aggregate against Harbour View FC of Jamaica. United won the first leg at the Maryland SoccerPlex 2-1 on March 6, as Alecko Eskandarian gave the Black-and-Red a fifth-minute lead, only to have it canceled out by Luton Shelton, before Josh Gros netted the game-winner in the 64th minute.
In the return leg in Kingston, Donald Stewart scored in the first half to pull the Caribbean champions level on aggregate, but Jamil Walker and Jaime Moreno scored three minutes apart late in the match to send United through.
Here's Nowak's team in the second leg: Nick Rimando - Brandon Prideaux, Nick Van Sicklen (65: Stephen Guppy), Christian Gomez (80: Clyde Simms), Alecko Eskandarian (46: Jamil Walker), Mike Petke, Ben Olsen, Brian Carroll, Joshua Gros, Bryan Namoff, Jaime Moreno.
United will play host to Pumas UNAM - two-time defending champion in Mexico's Primera Division - in the first leg of the semifinals on April 6 at RFK Stadium. The return match is set for the Estadio Olimpico Universitario in Mexico's capital city a week later.
The match will provide a good test for the club's ground-sharing arrangement for the upcoming season. The baseball Washington Nationals will be playing an exhibition game at RFK on Sunday, April 2, after which the mound will be lowered and the infield covered with grass matting in preparation for the soccer match.
A year ago, D.C. United opened the season at home with a 2-1 victory against the San Jose Earthquakes in the nationally televised First Kick 2004 (Moreno 12, Eskandarian 39 - Ekelund 19 pen). It was the first time since 2001 United had begun the season at home.
All-time, United has won their season five times in nine matches, one of those victories coming by shootout.