Work in Sports
D.C. prepares for physical MLS Cup match
Posted: Sunday December 19, 1999 11:53 AM
By Jeff Green, CNN/SI
BOSTON, Mass. -- D.C. United carries a well-deserved reputation as the Major League Soccer club that plays the most artful brand of soccer.
But skill alone does not win four-straight trips to the championship game. United has shown that it has the grit needed to win big matches, having taken home the first two MLS Cup trophies.
Not only did D.C. lead the league this season in goals (65) and assists (91), it also led in fouls committed, cautions and ejections. Sunday’s MLS Cup opponent, the Los Angeles Galaxy, was fourth, sixth and 10th in those categories.
“We know how to defend… and we know how to attack,” said D.C. coach Thomas Rongen. “It’s a combination of a true champion, as great teams in the past in all sports have shown, going to the Chicago Bulls with Michael Jordan, a great offensive player who gets voted several times to the all-defensive team as well.”
“[D.C. is] a very professional team,” said Galaxy captain Robin Fraser. ”And that means they do what it takes to win. If that means fouling, if it means outplaying you -- whatever the game requires, that’s what they do, so it will be a hard-fought game.”
“Both teams understand the importance of the game and we’ll play according to what’s allowed,” said Rongen. “We’ve got some physical players; they’ve got some physical players. We’ve also got some technical players, both teams, so I think it will be a great matchup with the appropriate aggression.
“The difference is going to be who is able to possess the ball the most, create and finish their chances,” Rongen said. “They’re probably the two best teams in MLS right now. I think it is going to be a very even match.”
“It will be a physical match,” he added. “I think the conditions will dictate that, the small field.”
Galaxy midfielder Clint Mathis sounded a similar note.
“I think a couple guys on their team and probably on our team are going to come out and try to make a [physical] statement right at the get-go. That’s how big matches like this end up becoming. There’s a lot of tension built up,” said Mathis.
Two D.C. players were in the league’s top three in fouls committed this season. Defender Geoff Aunger was second with 75 fouls in 25 games. Midfielder Ben Olsen ranks third, with 65 fouls in 28 games. Last season’s rookie of the year, Olsen typically is noted more for his attacking skills on the flank than his defense.
“That’s what’s been the success of D.C. the last four years,” said Olsen, who wasn’t around for United’s two MLS Cup titles. “They’ve got the skills, but when it’s time to play they can battle with the big boys.”
“There’s some hard work that comes with that, but there’s also some stupidity, some bad fouls,” Olsen said of his foul total. “There’s professional fouls, and there’s hard play. It’s never dirty on our part. I think we just go out and play some hard soccer.
“But everyone else does, too. It’s a tough league,” he said. “It evens out.”
Indeed, D.C. also leads MLS in fouls suffered. Jaime Moreno was third in the league in that category, with 74. L.A.’s Cobi Jones was the most beaten up player in MLS, with 80 fouls suffered.
D.C. has not yet known a year without a championship; even in 1998, when it lost to the expansion Chicago Fire in MLS Cup, the team captured the InterAmerican Cup over South American champion Vasco da Gama of Brazil.
“This is it; this is our last chance to make a stamp on this year,” Olsen said.
Rongen said he plans to go with the same lineup he used in last week’s game against Columbus, leaving Carey Talley in at the back in place of Diego Sonora.
Field, weather cause concern
As United’s light workout at Foxboro Stadium was winding down Saturday, the team was hurried off the field by a brief rain shower.
Olsen wasn’t overly concerned.
“This could be snow,” he said.
“A little rain is probably going to help the field,” Olsen said, referring to a Foxboro pitch criticized by players for being hard, bumpy and narrow -- allowing Olsen less room to run down the flanks.
The NFL season has taken its toll on the field, which was narrowed to 68 yards when temporary seating was added for football season.
Sale of United appears near
D.C. United is close to being sold to New York City-based investment firm EM Warburg, Pincus and Co., according to reports in the Washington Post.
United president and general manager Kevin Payne gave few details when asked about the team’s reported sale.
“It’s been an ongoing process and we’ve made a lot of progress. We’re very happy with the way things are progressing,” said Payne, who refused to elaborate or name the interested buyer.
The operating rights for the club have been on the market since before this season. The current group of investors -- Washington Soccer L.P., led by an investment company owned by financier George Soros -- is reportedly asking between $25 million and $30 million.