DC faces Marathon amid busy stretch
WASHINGTON -- Saturday's 2-0 loss to Toronto FC was surely not the way D.C. United had hoped to kick off a pivotal span featuring 10 games in 31 days. Despite a full week of rest and preparation ahead of a showdown that had third place in the Eastern Conference at stake, the Black-and-Red produced a lukewarm showing in Canada and now find themselves -- for now, at least -- pushed out of the MLS playoff slots.A day later, head coach Tom Soehn confessed to being as confounded by his team's display as anyone else."You know, there's some days where no matter how you prepare, you come out flat," he said in a phone interview from Miami International Airport, in the midst of United's long journey south from Toronto to Honduras on Sunday. "Understanding it sometimes drives you nuts, because you don't understand it. The day before the game, I thought we looked really energetic and then come game time, we weren't."Over a season where you play so many games, you always have to evaluate and pick apart the things you need to do better, but you also have to move on and make sure that you're ready for the next one. So that's the scenario we're faced with."Indeed, one silver lining in a schedule as daunting as United's August/September calendar is an abundance of opportunities to turn the page on a poor performance like Saturday's.But the team's next opponent probably ranks as an even tougher one, to be played in far more hostile territory than BMO Field. CONCACAF Champions League play has necessitated yet another complex travel itinerary this week as D.C. traveled directly to San Pedro Sula, Honduras for their CCL Group B opener against Central American side CD Marathon on Tuesday night.With several of his mainstays suspended, injured or short of full fitness, Soehn expects to make changes to the side that fell to TFC over the weekend. He and his staff are essentially approaching the group stages as a collection of home-and-home matches, which might help break up the daunting schedule into more manageable segments while keeping the team's focus on holding serve in the away games and taking a more aggressive tack back at RFK Stadium."Again, it's going to be a time where we have to dig into our roster and share the wealth so that not too many guys get gassed," said the United boss. "With these CONCACAF matches, you have to look at each opponent as a two-game series. So it's not a one-game thing. You have to do what you need to do on the road and make sure you take care of home games."These two sides also met in Champions League group play last year, with Marathon securing a 2-0 win at Estadio Olimpico Universitario in September before beating D.C. 4-2 a month later at RFK in United's last competitive match of 2008."It was a tough atmosphere," recalled midfielder Clyde Simms, when asked about his memories of the trip to San Pedro Sula. "The crowd was good for them and it's always tough playing those international games -- you're playing against a team that you're not used to seeing and don't know much about."But Soehn's squad was ravaged by injuries by the outset of Champions League play last season, leaving him little choice but to field second-choice sides on several occasions. He's confident that matters can unfold differently in '09 given the club's upgraded talent across the board."It was a totally different scenario," he said. "I think we were kind of hanging on last year with all the injuries that we had. I don't think we had a realistic shot to compete in CONCACAF, so I feel like we're in a different position -- the fact that we built our roster a little bit deeper and starting out now, we have healthy bodies."Suspended for the Toronto match, veteran midfielder Ben Olsen has met up with the team in Honduras and could be used alongside Simms in the center of the park. Simms is still working his way back to 100 percent fitness after his recent sports hernia surgery and United will need to cover plenty of ground to stifle the passing and movement of Marathon, who have raced out to a strong start in the first few weeks of the Honduran league."The Green Monster" have become one of their country's perennial contenders, having won last season's Apertura before falling just short of back-to-back titles in the '08-'09 Clausura. But D.C. rookie Rodney Wallace believes a more assertive mentality can help United jumpstart their sputtering attack."It's a win that we need, not just because of a result for CONCACAF but also, we've got to do it for ourselves, to get back in the groove and start winning some games," said Wallace on Sunday. "We just need to start proving to ourselves that we can score and get creative. So we're going after three points."