As D.C. United continues to fight through 2010 while simultaneously preparing for 2011, the team can get a jump start on next year by claiming the first international ticket for MLS teams by winning the U.S. Open Cup. D.C. faces Columbus at RFK in the semifinal on Wednesday for a chance to play in the final for the third straight year. For a team like United that is hungry to lay a firm foundation for the future, the U.S. Open Cup would be a very strong first step.
The Los Angeles Galaxy has been soaring through the MLS regular season, but there is one thing that Los Angeles really missed the boat on – CONCACAF Champions League. They lost the opening leg of the home-and-home qualifier 4-1 to minor league opponent Puerto Rico in the Home Depot Center. Despite winning leg two on the road, L.A. was bounced from Champions League before group play. There are only a few MLS teams that can honestly go toe-to-toe with the Mexican giants in CONCACAF, and this Galaxy team was one of them, which makes the blown opportunity a disaster. For D.C. United, there may be a lesson to be learned.
The unusual MLS calendar (being played during the summer), means that the international competitions are in between seasons for the American teams. D.C. United experienced this uncomfortable situation first-hand a few years ago. The team won the 2004 MLS Cup to advance to what was then known as the CONCACAF Champions Cup. The team that earned that berth in the fall of 2004 included key players like Ryan Nelsen and Earnie Stewart. By the spring of 2005, when the tournament began, Nelsen had moved to England, Stewart had retired from MLS, and United was reduced to Nick Van Sicklen and David Stokes – no joke, both those guys started in Leg 2 on the road against Pumas UNAM of Mexico.
D.C. United continues to look for improvement and they are sure to be much better in 2011. MLS teams need to be very good in order to seriously compete in the CONCACAF Champions League, and even though United has struggled this season, who knows how the team will look a year from now when the 2011 Champions League gets underway. For their own sake, D.C. United needs improvement in every category next season and an important by product from that focus to improve in MLS could be a team that is better prepared for international competitions. Of course, they have to get there first.