Work in Sports
Been there; done that
United intent on bringing MLS title back to D.C.
Posted: Friday November 19, 1999 10:15 PM
By Jeff Green, CNN/SI
BOSTON, Mass. (CNN/SI) -- One word kept coming up as D.C. United staff and players discussed Friday's training session -- "intense."
After arriving from D.C. a day earlier, United practiced at Harvard University in preparation for Sunday's Major League Soccer championship game against the Los Angeles Galaxy.
"We capped off a good week with a very spirited session today," said United coach Thomas Rongen. "Today is always an important day [two days out from a game], where we finalize and look at the details of the game, such as set pieces, and pretty much get the starting unit playing together for a fairly long period of time. Then you tone it down a bit the day before the game," Rongen said.
"This team, even in practice situations, competes every day. That's why we keep practices normally very short -- an hour, or an hour and fifteen minutes is really the max that we go. Thursday was really our heaviest day."
After winning the first two MLS Cups -- the first one against L.A. at Foxboro in 1996 -- D.C. United was stung last season when it lost to the expansion Chicago Fire in the title game.
"We've got to just look at last year," said Rongen, who joined the team last December after Bruce Arena left to join the U.S. national team after last season. "How devastating a loss it was, and how [the players] felt after that game, we just don't want that feeling again, so we'll use that as a little applied psychology."
Rongen said that D.C.'s experience in three consecutive championship games can serve as a blessing and a curse.
"It can be an advantage, but it can also be a disadvantage. It can create a little false sense of security," Rongen said.
Rongen has his players feeling confident heading into the weekend.
"We're playing really well right now. We think we can win the game if we can play the way we've been playing," said United midfielder John Maessner. "I don't think there's any team that can stay with us if we play the way that way than we can play, on top of our game like we've been playing."
After trouncing the Columbus Crew 4-0 to win the Eastern Conference title last Saturday, Maessner said the team had no trouble putting behind it a 5-1 loss to the Crew in game two of that best-of-three series.
"No one's thinking about that game," he said.
MLS Cup nostalgia
After just four years, the 1996 final between the L.A. and D.C. is already starting to take on mythic proportions -- at least in the victorious D.C. camp.
"It was pretty magical, not just for our team but for the league," United president and general manager Kevin Payne said Friday.
"Obviously, that was a pretty special experience for everybody," said Payne. "The weather, the drama of that game, it was an unbelievable first championship game.
"It's one that I think, many years from now, people will talk about. I think it will be one of those games where probably a 150,000 were there, when all is said and done."
Attendance at the rain-soaked match was 34,643.
"What I remember most is just the unwillingness of our team to give up," he said. "Our team has continued to build on that. Our players have embraced the winning tradition at D.C."
Asked about his memories of MLS Cup '96, Maessner had a one word answer: "Monsoon." But that October storm played to D.C.'s advantage, as the team recovered from a 2-0 deficit late in the second half with goals on three set pieces -- including Eddie Pope's golden-goal header in the 94th minute on a Marco Etcheverry corner kick.
Maessner was a member of both D.C. championship squads, but joined the Miami Fusion in the expansion draft prior to the 1998 season. He returned this season through trade, which will send not-yet-revealed "future considerations" to the Fusion after season's end.
Having won a starting spot opposite Ben Olsen out wide in the United midfield, Maessner is gunning for his third title in four years.
"They did pretty well without me while I was gone," Maessner said with a hint of sarcasm. "But they didn't win it. Let's see what I can do to help them get the cup back."
United defender Diego Sonora is likely to be playing his final game for D.C. United on Sunday, according to Payne.
"It appears to me at this time that Diego is probably not willing to re-sign with the league," said Payne. "So that's really the end of that."
If he does re-sign, what are the odds that he would rejoin United?
"Very unlikely, because we would be over the cap," said Payne. "If he did sign with us, there's few teams that would be interested in making a trade with us for some kind of future draft considerations."
The Argentine defender had threatened to leave during the playoffs when his contract expired during the playoffs in order to seek a spot on a central American or South American squad. MLS reached a temporary agreement with Sonora to keep him in the fold.
No starters are expected to miss the game for D.C.
Promising young Project-40 forward Chris Albright is out for Sunday with a torn MCL in his left knee. Defender Clint Peay, a member of United's 1996 cup-winning squad, is doubtful with a strained left calf, and midfielder Mike Slivinski is questionable with a sprained right ankle.
Sonora has been practicing despite a left calf contusion and is expected to play. Carey Talley would take his place if he's unable to play.
Projected starting lineup
Tom Presthus, Diego Sonora, Eddie Pope, Carlos Llamosa, Jeff Agoos, Ben Olsen, Richie Williams, Marco Etcheverry, John Maessner, Jaime Moreno, Roy Lassiter.