As eight top-tier teams fell in the third round of the OpenCup last week, the stakes for those MLS sides still left in America’s knockoutcompetition multiplied exponentially. Far more important than the $100,000 prize put up by the USSF, the pathto the fourth U.S. berth into CONCACAF ChampionsLeague suddenly became far less arduous.
“The coaches have definitely mentioned that,” midfielderPerry Kitchen said when asked about the possibility of a CCL spot for the D.C.United. “It will mean a lot tothis club if we can get good results through this tournament.”Since the tournament adopted its new ‘Champions League’format in 2008, D.C. has made a pair of appearances in CONCACAF’s premierevent. Only three MLS teams (LosAngeles, Seattle, and Houston) have qualified more than twice, meaning United’snext appearance would offer further tangible proof of the Black-and-Red’sreturn to the upper echelon of American soccer.
“That is something I want to be a part of,” Head Coach BenOlsen said after Monday’s practice. “It has changed everything in this tournament, it really has. You are four or five games away fromplaying in CONCACAF. Thisorganization has always liked being a part of that competition, and we’ve donewell. I want to get back in it andthis is another step in that direction.”
Beyond playing for regional supremacy, a CCL berthwould keep alive the ultimate dream scenario. This year’s Open Cup winner qualifies for the 2013-2014 CONCACAF Champions League. A victory inthat competition delivers inclusion in the 2014 FIFA Club World Cup where adate with a major European power, in a meaningful game no less, would be the ultimateprize – on the ultimate stage – for Olsen’s group.
“Yeah, you think about stuff like that,” goalkeeper BillHamid acknowledged. “You can’tlook too far down the road, but we are definitely well aware of what couldhappen if we take care of business.”