On the heels of an inspiring 3-0 win over the Montreal Impact last weekend, coach Ben Olsen and his players will enjoy a momentary reprieve from MLS responsibilities. An open date this weekend means D.C. United has 15 days between games, a stretch that will feel like a welcome break following a frantic stretch during the second half of August.
With their next league game slated for Sept. 15 — on the road against the Portland Timbers — Olsen and his staff can utilize Wednesday’s friendly against Liga MX side Puebla as a veritable training session for a handful of first-team players and several promising youngsters from Loudoun United. And in that regard, what might have been an awkward dose of scheduling could prove rather fortuitous with only four league games remaining.
“It will be a different group than we played last time against the French group (Marseille) because the timing is such where we have a break afterwards, and some guys will get 30 (minutes), some guys will get 45 (minutes),” Olsen said. “A little bit of a puzzle, but it will be probably the best team that we put forward for one of these friendlies, again, because of the circumstances.”
Opponent: Club Puebla
Record: 1 win, 3 draws, 3 losses
Standings: 17th out of 19 teams in Liga MX. A year ago, Puebla finished the first half of its season in 12th place and the second half in 10th place. The Liga MX campaign is divided in half with two separate champions crowned.
Last match: Draw, 1-1, @ Queretaro
Head coach: Juan Reynoso; first season; appointed in August
A former Peruvian international (84 caps, 5 goals), Reynoso assumed control of Puebla less than two weeks ago after a brief five-month stint in charge of Real Garcilaso in Peru. But Reynoso is a familiar figure at Puebla, a club for which he served as an assistant coach from Oct. 2017 to March 2019, and in reality his absence was barely more than a summer. Reynoso has bounced between his native Peru and Mexico for the entirety of his managerial career, with head-coaching experience at Melgar (Peru), Cruz Azul Hidalgo (Mexico), Sporting Cristal (Peru), Juan Aurich (Peru), Universitario (Peru) and Coronel Bolognesi (Peru). He also worked as an assistant coach for Cruz Azul and Necaxa, a pair of Liga MX sides.
As a player, Reynoso made more than 200 appearances for Cruz Azul and another 50-plus appearances for Necaxa.
Storyline to follow: Wayne Rooney’s playing time
Given the way United’s schedule unfolded this season, Rooney will have what amounts to a full month without a game thanks to the red card he received after 24 minutes against the New York Red Bulls on Aug. 21. His prior match, a 74-minute shift against the Vancouver Whitecaps on Aug. 17, represents Rooney’s last substantive action until the team’s next league match Sept. 15 against the Timbers.
Because of the significant gap between matches, Rooney will be in the starting lineup Wednesday against Puebla and should receive at least 60 minutes of playing time, if not more. The match serves as an opportunity for Rooney to maintain sharpness in the absence of traditional league games.
“He’ll see as many minutes as we can get him, since we need to push his minutes and his fitness,” Olsen said. “It’s important for him to now train extremely hard. There’s been a lot going on his world in the last month. For him now to, you know, get these training sessions under his belt and try to get a sustained fitness and even get fitter over the next three or four weeks is important. So when we do come out of this (break), he’s ready to be at his best. And if he’s not at his best, just like every other player on this field right now, then we’re in trouble.”
Rooney has missed four of United’s last eight matches due to illness, a red card suspension and scheduled time off. He returned to England this past weekend to visit his wife and children while the Black-and-Red were in Montreal for what constituted the second game of his suspension.
“The reality is his tenure is going to be not that long here,” Olsen said. “Is he cruising through it? I don’t think that’s his mentality and I think he’s willing — or he’s looking forward to showing people that that’s not the case. We have, we think, a good plan for him over the next two weeks to push him, his fitness levels and training time.
“It’s a tricky time because some guys need to exhale after this game. But some other guys have to really push themselves physically, and he’s in that camp. So we have a plan for some of these guys to make sure they’re ready to go when called upon during the last four games. And again, he’s open to that and committed. I think there’s a lot of stuff right now that’s behind him, some of the drama of the last two months is behind this group, and we’re really focused on the future and the next four games.”
Added Rooney: “I don’t think I need to reassure anyone (of my commitment). My performances, hopefully, in the next few games will do that. I said when the decision was made to go to Derby (County) that I’m here for the team, to try and help the team win. Obviously the last game I played, I got a red card. I still believe it wasn’t a red card. I believe the punishment was too much. I’ve seen a lot worse. I said at the time that anyone who knows football knows the action I was making. I’ve seen a lot worse in this league and people not getting punished. But I have to accept it — it is what it is — and get ready for Portland.”
Players to watch: United’s reserves and Loudoun’s standouts
As Olsen alluded to, United’s roster against Puebla will be much different than it was against Marseille in late July, when nine of the 16 players used had spent the majority of their seasons with Loudoun. So in addition to Rooney, who serves as a nice headliner, there are likely to be a number of first-team faces at Audi Field on Wednesday.
For the Black-and-Red, that list could include Luciano Acosta, Quincy Amarikwa, Emmanuel Boateng, Chris Odoi-Atsem, Marquinhos Pedroso, Chris Seitz and Gordon Wild.
For players stationed at Loudoun, the list could include Antonio Bustamante and Orlando Sinclair, among others.
“We need the training session for some guys: a training session meaning 30 minutes or 45,” Olsen said. “And then some guys need to be pushed and get real game time, so there will be some 90-minute performances.”
Stats to know: United’s history against Liga MX sides
Without question, the Black-and-Red’s finest moment against an opponent from Liga MX came on Aug. 16, 1998, in the CONCACAF Champions’ Cup final. Defender Eddie Pope scored the winning goal in a 1-0 victory over Deportivo Toluca before a crowd of 12,607 at RFK Stadium.
That game marked United’s second victory over a Liga MX squad in the span of three days, knocking off Club Leon in the semifinals behind a pair of goals from Roy Lassiter.
Since then, the LA Galaxy are the only MLS side to have won the CONCACAF Champions’ Cup, which has since been rebranded as the CONCACAF Champions League.
United’s overall record against teams from Liga MX is five wins, six draws and 13 losses. Here’s a look at all of the competitive matches in club history:
Feb. 24 — 2-0 loss to Queretaro in the first leg of the CONCACAF Champions League
March 1 — 1-1 draw with Queretaro in the second leg of the CONCACAF Champions League (goal scored by Julian Buscher)
Aug. 26 — 3-1 loss to Toluca in the first leg of the CONCACAF Champions League
Oct. 20 — 1-1 draw with Toluca in the second leg of the CONCACAF Champions League (goal scored by Chris Pontius)
April 1 — 2-0 loss to Pachuca in the first leg of the CONCACAF Champions’ Cup
April 9 — 2-1 win over Pachuca in the second leg of the CONCACAF Champions’ Cup (goals scored by Rod Dyachenko and Franco Niell)
July 12 — 2-1 loss to C.D. Guadalajara in the SuperLiga (goal scored by Luciano Emilio)
July 15 — 3-2 loss to Atlante in the SuperLiga (goals scored by Emilio and Francis Doe)
Oct. 1 — 1-0 loss to Cruz Azul in the first leg of the CONCACAF Champions League
Oct. 21 — 2-0 loss to Cruz Azul in the second leg of the CONCACAF Champions League
March 15 — 1-1 draw with C.D. Guadalajara in the first leg of the CONCACAF Champions’ Cup (goal scored by Emilio)
April 3 — 2-1 loss to C.D. Guadalajara in the second leg of the CONCACAF Champions’ Cup (goal scored by Jaime Moreno)
July 25 — 1-1 draw with Monarcas Morelia in the SuperLiga (goal scored by Christian Gomez)
July 29 — 1-0 win over Club America in the SuperLiga (goal scored by Dyachenko)
Sept. 26 — 2-1 win over C.D. Guadalajara in the first leg of the Copa Nissan Sudamericana (goals scored by Olsen and Clyde Simms)
Oct. 2 — 1-0 loss to C.D. Guadalajara in the second leg of the Copa Nissan Sudamericana
April 6 — 1-1 draw with Pumas UNAM in the first leg of the CONCACAF Champions’ Cup (goal scored by Gomez)
April 13 — 5-0 loss to Pumas UNAM in the second leg of the CONCACAF Champions’ Cup
August 5 — 2-0 loss to Club America in the CONCACAF Giants Cup
Jan. 21 — 2-1 loss to Pachuca in the CONCACAF Champions’ Cup (goal scored by Carey Talley)
Oct. 1 — 3-1 loss to Club Necaxa in the CONCACAF Champions’ Cup (goal scored by Talley)
Aug. 14 — 2-0 win over CSD Leon in the CONCACAF Champions’ Cup (both goals scored by Lassiter)
Aug. 16 — 1-0 win over Toluca in the CONCACAF Champions’ Cup (goal scored by Pope)
Aug. 24 — 2-2 draw with C.D. Guadalajara in the CONCACAF Champions’ Cup (goals scored by Raul Diaz Arce and Benedict Iroha)