D.C. takes new hope to Caribbean
WASHINGTON -- D.C. United continue their international juggling act this week with a CONCACAF Champions League Group B match in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad, where they will try to re-ignite their campaign with a positive result against San Juan Jabloteh on Tuesday night.With their MLS playoff prospects still very uncertain in the wake of Saturday's 2-1 loss to Seattle, United have journeyed to the Caribbean island nation with a squad comprised mainly of youngsters and reserves, plus a sprinkling of experience from the likes of Clyde Simms, Christian Gomez and Luciano Emilio.First-choice goalkeeper Josh Wicks and veterans like Ben Olsen, Bryan Namoff and Jaime Moreno have remained in D.C. for rest and recovery. But those selected for Tom Soehn's traveling party have plenty to prove and the team remains optimistic of securing a valuable victory at Hasely Crawford Stadium.Recent arrivals Tiyi Shipalane and Lawson Vaughn might make their United debuts -- and though it's less likely, so could 18-year-old Bill Hamid. The promising netminder became the first-ever D.C. youth academy product to sign with the senior team last week and will be Milos Kocic's backup on Tuesday."From day one we've always had a deep roster and the coach shuffles it around," said midfielder Andrew Jacobson on Sunday. "Maybe some of the guys who don't play as much are going to be playing in the game, but every game we really do look to go out and win it. I don't think we write ourselves out of this at all - we win this game and we're right back in the tournament."The two clubs sit side by side at the bottom of the group, both having lost their opening matches to Mexican representatives Toluca and CD Marathon of Honduras. That reality raises the stakes for Tuesday -- both sides harbor hopes of a belated revival in the competition, but failure to pick up the full three points would deal a major blow to any such ambitions. United believe Jabloteh, a perennial contender in Trinidad's emergent domestic league, will press the issue from the outset."They are going to be up for it. They believe that they still have a chance," said D.C. defender Avery John. "We still have a chance, obviously. So we just have to be careful. We have to stick to the game plan, make sure we absorb a lot of pressure, try to play a lot of possession and get at them."The match represents a homecoming for John and his fellow defender Julius James, both of whom have represented Trinidad and Tobago at the international level and will be eager to prove themselves on familiar turf. John grew up in Point Fortin, an oil-producing area southwest of Port-of-Spain, and he expects Jabloteh to exhibit the aggression and athleticism that typifies Caribbean soccer."When you go down to Trinidad, expect a flat-out attacking sort of soccer," said United's left back on Saturday. "[Jabloteh] have some good movement. Especially at home, they tend to be a little more free-flowing ... it's going to be a hard game."Both this season and last, United has struggled to adapt to the distinct demands of Champions League, where Latin American-infused tactics and style tend to present a jarring contrast to the muscular norm of Major League Soccer. In that sense, Jabloteh might offer a more familiar matchup for Soehn's team and the current squad's growing international experience should simplify matters as well."You have to be able to accept changes and different tactics, and different teams and styles of play," said John. "We went to El Salvador, we played in Honduras -- a couple different types of play and I think the guys, especially the reserve guys, everybody has a better idea of what to expect."Perched precariously in the final spot for the MLS Cup Playoffs with several teams capable of vaulting them in league action (D.C. have a bye weekend ahead), the Black-and-Red might be forgiven if the postseason picture dominated their thoughts. But the team is working their way through the challenge one step at a time."You've just got to take it game by game, whether it's the Champions League or the MLS race for the playoffs," said rookie Chris Pontius. "You can't look ahead too much and you've got to focus on the opponent at hand."Charles Boehm is a contributor to MLSnet.com.