The third match of D.C. United's 2014-2015 CONCACAF Champions League (CCL) campaign could have been 6-1 over Tauro FC in favor of the hometown team, but instead it finished 2-0 for the good guys. There were several missed chances and close calls for the Black-and-Red, but they were perfectly happy to get goals from Chris Pontius (who is rapidly playing himself into starting fitness and quality) and Eddie Johnson (who quickly returned to his recent goal-scoring form following extended concussion symptoms).
- Ryan Keefer: "Chris Pontius had been waiting for months to be part of the D.C. United rotation, facing injury, setbacks and gradual working back into the lineup. Eddie Johnson had dealt with a concussion in training, a recovery and unfortunate recurrence of symptoms and missed his own share of games. Both came back in tonight's CONCACAF Champions League game and found minor relief, scoring goals for the Black and Red en route to a 2-0 shutout over Tauro FC of Panama. With nine points from three games in their group, D.C. has secured advancement in the group (the first team in CONCACAF to do so), making next month's game against the club in Estadio Rommel Fernandez a formality, unless seeding for the next round is in play."
- Pablo Maurer, via mlssoccer.com: "D.C. United's CONCACAF Champions League match against Panamanian side Tauro FC on Wednesday evening probably couldn't have gone much better, as far as they were concerned. Actually, their entire group stage has gone about as well as they could've hoped. United became the first of the four Major League Soccer entrants into CCL to advance into the competitions knockout round on Wednesday, using a reserve-heavy lineup to breeze by the Panamanian club 2-0 and win their group with a match to spare. Tauro were eliminated; United will visit them later in October in a match that will carry little weight for the home side but will afford DC the opportunity to claim a top seed in the knockout phase."
- Steven Goff, via washingtonpost.com: "There were more people shopping at the Walmart Supercenter on H Street than at RFK [2,576]. There were more people who showed up at Nationals Park, not knowing the baseball game had been rained out. There were more people lining up to jump the White House fence. While these Champions League attendance figures are not the norm and will not determine whether United gains permission to build a stadium at Buzzard Point, the optics are not good - in person, in print and on TV. Fortunately, club officials have had to fret about only two of these pop-up matches. They can now turn their full ticket-selling attention to the last three league home games, starting Saturday afternoon against Philadelphia, and almost surely at least one playoff match."
- Ben Olsen, via mlssoccer.com: "It was a good a night in the sense that we rested some guys, got some guys that needed minutes minutes, and got the result which gets us into the next round...I think it's important for this club to get back into this stage of the tournament. We were one of the early clubs that had success and I was lucky enough to be a part of those teams and I think our fans are excited to be back in the knockout stage. I think the league is excited to have us go through as well as some of the other teams - I think it continues to show the growth of this league...At this point, we should get through this phase. Us, Kansas City, Portland and New York, we should get through. Now, the test comes. We'll play against the big boys in the next round and hopefully an MLS team can put their stamp on this tournament."
Editorial comment: A perfectly delicious, yet innocent, well-timed quote from Mr. D.C. United about the New York Red Bulls.
- Chris Pontius, via blackandredunited.com: "It felt good for the 60 minutes I was out there."
Felt great to be back out at RFK again. Big win for the boys and we move on to Philly this sat. Much love to the fans who made it out— Chris Pontius (@ChrisPontius13) September 25, 2014
Good 2-0 win tonight.The team played very well and I'm glad to contribute with an assist.God is great… http://t.co/NiKDvaXw4X— Samuel Inkoom (@InkoomSamuel) September 25, 2014
Great win tonight and happy to see @ChrisPontius13 get on the score sheet. Happy I got some minutes and contribute tonight in the win 2nite— Eddie Johnson (@eddie_johnson7) September 25, 2014
Wednesday night saw more solid, workmanlike success in CCL from D.C. United. By some accounts, they were drawn into the easiest group of any MLS team in CCL. It doesn't matter, however, since Ben Olsen and company have done exactly what was needed in each of their first three group-stage matches. It wasn't flashy, and it won't break any tiebreakers with other CCL teams who are racking up double-digit goal differentials. But, continued kudos to Olsen and his coaching staff for going 3-0 to open CCL play, securing passage through to next spring's CCL quarterfinals while giving players further down the bench important playing time, helping to rehabilitate players returning from injury, and setting his team up for continued success in MLS play.
The Last Word:
D.C. United is now set for the MLS home stretch. With five league games remaining, Ben Olsen won't have to worry about any squad rotation issues driven by their final CCL group stage game at Tauro on Oct. 21st--unless he chooses to. The team now has the luxury of focusing on winning the MLS Eastern Conference and watching how that race, and the CCL group races, progress. Then, in the final week of the season, he will be able to freely select what kind of team he wants to send to Panama a few days before their MLS season-ending match at the Montreal Impact (which, if United takes care of business, may not even affect where D.C. United or Montreal end up in the final conference rankings).
We can now confidently say D.C. United will be playing CCL matches in early 2015. We should expect the first month of next season to be busy with league games and the quarterfinal 2-leg series. With good play the remainder of this 2014 season, the team will also guarantee they will be playing CCL games later in 2015. That will make for a terrific, and busy season. Let's bring it on, and that starts Saturday against the Philadelphia Union!
CCL in 2015. Discuss.