D.C. Unitedís legend grows with taking of CONCACAF Champions Cup.By Jerry Langdon
Gannett News Service
WASHINGTON, D.C. (Monday, August 17, 1998) -- (Washington) D.C. United, the best team in Major League Soccer, now is the best in all of North America, Central America and the Caribbean (CONCACAF).
Next: South America?
The two-time MLS champions, fresh from impressive wins against Mexican powers Leon and Toluca, the reigning titlist, to take the CONCACAF Champions Cup, still have the matter of successfully defending their MLS crown this fall. But they have earned the right now to bask in the glory of their most recent triumph.
Major League Soccer is not Serie A (Italy), Bundesliga (Germany), England Premier League or Spain First Division, where million-dollar players sometimes sit on the bench. MLS will never be in that class. The team salary limit in MLS is $1.6 million.
D.C. United, however, gave U.S. fans justification for claiming that professional soccer here can approach and eventually reach the highly respectable next tier of worldwide soccer leagues. Its success in CONCACAF is a milestone for MLS stature -- even though only 12,607 came out to RFK Stadium to watch the historic accomplishment.
The victory represents the brightest moment in the fledgling league's three-year existence. It also ranks in the same zip code as the great triumphs in U.S. national team history -- the 1-0 World Cup win in 1950 against England, the 2-1 victory in the 1994 World Cup against Colombia, the 3-0 1995 Copa America shocker against Argentina, the 1993 2-0 U.S. Cup win against England, and the 1-0 Gold Cup victory in 1997 against Brazil.
Competition in the new Copa Merconorte Tournament is the next level as MLS barometer, not only for D.C. United but the Los Angeles Galaxy. The 16 teams entered represent the best in CONCACAF and five South American countries -- Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Venezuela.
Group A -- Deportivo Cali (Colombia), Emelec (Ecuador), Sporting Cristal
(Peru), Guadalajara Chivas (Mexico).
The participation of Club America and Cruz Azul is somewhat in doubt because of an eight-team Mexican playoff for two berths in the Copa Liberatadores tournament.
The two MLS teams may not advance beyond their groups, but neither figures to be embarrassed, either. D.C. United by the time the tournament is under way next month hopes to be at full strength with superb marking defender Carlos Llamosa fit, and perhaps explosive midfielder Tony Sanneh as well. The Galaxy may finally have learned how to incorporate Carlos Hermosillo into its offense, and settled on personnel for defense.
D.C. United is the MLS jewel. But other teams must raise their level of play for Major League Soccer to truly succeed. This is a true salary cap league, so everyone theoretically is level. There are no Larry Bird Exemptions. Or creative deferred salary adjustments. Yes, sponsors help with the superstars. But other than that and the assignment of marquee performers, player selection and coaching make the difference.
U.S. Soccer, are you listening? Last we heard, Leon and Toluca were from
Mexico, which is the leading member of CONCACAF, which is the group from which the
U.S. national team must qualify from in 2000 and 2001 for the 2002 World Cup. And a
U.S. coach named Bruce Arena led his D.C. United team to an historic triumph
symbolizing club supremacy in CONCACAF.
Jerry Langdon is sports editor of Gannett News Service and can be e-mailed at
Jerry Langdon is sports editor of Gannett News Service and can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.