D.C. United, Chicago take their shots for regional superiority.By Jerry Langdon
Gannett News Service
(Sunday, September 26, 1999) -- The United States national team hasn't been able to beat Mexico, but maybe Major League Soccer again can turn the trick in this week's CONCACAF Champions Cup in Las Vegas, which determines the top club in North America, Caribbean and Central America.
The winning team gets $75,000, a modest amount, but the payoff is later, with $1.5 million guaranteed for participating in the first FIFA World Club Championship, involving eight teams January 5-14 in Brazil.
Defending champion D.C. United and MLS titlist Chicago Fire are among the eight entrants in the event beginning Tuesday. "It's a very important tournament for us and for American soccer," D.C. United coach Thomas Rongen said.
"It's something we've looked forward to all year," Chicago coach Bob Bradley added. The schedule, with times Pacific:
Chicago (MLS) vs. Joe Public (Trinidad & Tobago), 6 p.m.
D.C. United (MLS) vs. Olimpia (Honduras), 6 p.m.
D.C. United is head and shoulders above the rest of Major League Soccer, and ranks as one of the favorites, along with the two Mexican teams. It has explosive firepower with midfielder Marco Etcheverry and forwards Jaime Moreno and Roy Lassiter.
Midfielder Richie Williams is key to the defense, where the back line has been slow to jell -- despite the presence of four All-Stars -- due to lingering injuries to Eddie Pope and Carlos Llamosa. Jeff Agoos has been brilliant on the left flank.
Chicago has a dangerous midfield, paced by Peter Nowak, but its overall play has been inconsistent. Particularly lacking is goal-scoring up front, and the loss of 10-goal spark Josh Wolff with an torn left knee anterior cruciate ligament doesn't help. Lubos Kubik is a marvelous central defender.
The tournament is big for Major League Soccer, trying to win international recognition in its fourth season. D.C. United reached the pinnacle last year, beating Mexican powers Leon and Toluca to capture the CONCACAF Champions Cup, then defeating South American champion Vasco da Gama (Brazil) in a two-match series to win the InterAmerican Cup, an unprecedented achievement for a U.S. club.
The year before, Los Angeles Galaxy made the CONCACAF finals, had an early two-goal lead before Cruz Azul (Mexico) rallied after an injury to midfielder Mauricio Cienfuegos for a 5-3 title win.
Penalty kicks will decide tie games; no overtimes are planned because of four teams having to play three games in five or six days.
Fox Sports World is schedule to telecast the games.
A rundown on the six non-MLS teams:
Alajuelense (Costa Rica) -- Won league 19 times since 1928, including 1996 and 1997. Defender Sandro Alfaro is a national team mainstay. Wilmer Lopez is a creative midfielder but has been injured. Harold Wallace, 23, has national team experience on defense. Top scorer is Josef Miso, a Slovakian who scored 21 goals in 1998-99. Edson Luis Valente, a Brazilian forward, shows promise. Wilson Munoz is an attacking midfielder. Richard Mahoney, Luis Arnaez and Xavier Delgado are able defenders.
Joe Public (Trinidad & Tobago) -- This team, founded in 1996, figures to be outmatched, as it was in 8-0 rout last year by D.C. United. In fact, it is trailing in the local league race this season. Will Chicago rest some of its aging lineup? Forward Arnold Dwarika is a major scoring threat, and Nigel Pierre, 21, is promising . Angus Eve is a top midfielder on the left side. Central midfielders are Kendal Velox and Terry St. Louis. Alvin Thomas is a veteran defender, Michael McComie a flamboyant goalkeeper.
Necaxa (Mexico) -- Winner of Winter League in 1998. Two internationals from Ecuador lead the offense, attacking and playmaking midfielder Alex Aguinaga and forward Agustin Delgado. Sergio Vasquez of Uruguay is threat at wide midfield. Tough defensive midfielder is German Villa, a member of Mexico team in 1998 World Cup. Salvador Cabrera and Sergio Almaguer are solid combo in the back. Available from the bench is midfielder Misael Espinoza, who played well with San Jose Clash in 1996. Could be problems in goal with Hugo Pineda still recovering from elbow injury.
Olimpia (Honduras) -- League champion 21 times since 1966. National team starters include central defender/holding midfielder Jorge Samuel Caballero and defender Martin Membreno. Rudy Williams and Jose Gregorio Serrano are strong defenders. Wilmer Velasquez scored 34 goals in 1997-98 season and is back after aborted transfer to Brazilian team. Denilson Costa is an attacking left midfielder, helped by Nahun Espinoza and Jose Luis Pineda playing behind central midfielder Marion Henandez. Arnold Cruz, with MLS experience at D.C. United and San Jose, is available on defense.
Saprissa (Costa Rica) -- Winner of 22 league titles the last 42 years, Saprissa started this season slowly, but has pulled even with arch-rival Alajuelense in recent weeks. Star goalkeeper Erick Lonnis is out of action with knee injury. Several starters are national team veterans, led by defenders Victor Cordero and Jervis Drummond, the latter's brother forward Gerald Drummond, and midfielders Walter Centeno and Jeaustin Campos. Argentinian forward Adrian Mahia, 31, had 21 goals last season.
Toluca (Mexico) -- Captured Summer League crowns in 1998 and 1999. Striker Jose Saturnino Cardozo played for Paraguay in 1998 World Cup. Jose Manuel Abundis, with the Mexican national team, pairs well with him. Right defensive back Jose Salvador Carmona is a starter for Mexico, and midfielder Rafael Garcia also is a national team factor. Alberto Macias is a veteran central defender. Mane Ferreira, Paraguayan international, is playmaker. Victor Ruiz is dangerous on free kicks and corner kicks. Midfielder Enrique Alfaro has been out with an injury. Jerry Langdon is sports editor of Gannett News Service and can be e-mailed at email@example.com.