Chasing the 'pot of gold'

Date Published: 
1999-09-27
Source: 
SI.com

LAS VEGAS (AP) -- D.C. United and the Chicago Fire take a break from their Major League Soccer schedules this week to compete in the 1999 CONCACAF Champions' Cup, the eight-team international tournament featuring teams from five countries.

Tuesday night's matches at Sam Boyd Stadium feature the Fire, the defending MLS champions, against Joe Public of Trinidad and Tobago, champions of the Caribbean, and Mexican champion Toluca against Alajuela of Costa Rica.

On Wednesday, D.C. United faces Central American champion Olimpia of Honduras, and Necaxa of Mexico will face Saprissa of Costa Rica.

The semifinals are Friday and the finals Sunday.

With last Saturday's 2-0 victory over the Los Angeles Galaxy, United clinched first place in the MLS Eastern Division, secured home advantage through the playoffs and won a club-record 11th straight match. And they did it while resting several key players in preparation for the CONCACAF tournament.

The Fire started only two of its regulars Sunday in a 2-0 loss to the San Jose Clash.

Under first-year head coach Thomas Rongen, D.C. enters the Champions' Cup with 23-7 record. It is the defending winner of the CONCACAF Champions' Cup for club teams. The winning team in Las Vegas will advance to the finals of the FIFA Club World Championship next January in Brazil, competing against teams including European champion Manchester United.

United last year went on to defeat Brazil's Vasco da Gama, the South American champions, in the Interamerican Cup.

United is led by all-star forward Roy Lassiter, the leading scorer in the MLS this year with 17 goals and 11 assists in 28 games, along with Bolivians Marco Etcheverry and Jaime Moreno.

"We're the team with the bull's eye on the back of our jerseys," Rongen said, "but it's a great position to be in going into this tournament. We rested seven of our first choice players against Los Angeles and three others only played in the second half. We're serious about winning another CONCACAF Champions' Cup."

United marched through last year's tournament at their home field, Washington's RFK Stadium, scoring 11 goals while holding all three opponents scoreless.

Chicago is the defending MLS champion, and at 16-14 has clinched a playoff berth. However, the team ranks fourth in a tight Western Conference race.

"We won CONCACAF last year, but what's ahead of us -- being able to compete with [Manchester] United, Real Madrid, Corinthians, Vasco de Gama -- would be very special," Rongen told the Washington Post. Rongen took over at D.C. for current U.S. national team coach Bruce Arena following last year's Interamerican Cup victory.

United defender Eddie Pope said he expects the CONCACAF competition to be "harder than last year."

"There's a pot of gold at the end that everybody sees," Pope told the paper, apparently referring to the reported $1.5 million for each team in the Club World Championship.

The CONCACAF tournament will be televised in the United States by Fox Sports World.

Meanwhile, a new name, logo and Web site (www.FootballConfederation.com) were introduced today by the controlling body for football in the regions of North America, Central America and the Caribbean.

Known since its formation in 1961 by the acronym CONCACAF, the continental confederation that oversees the activities of 38 member associations will now be known as the Football Confederation.

"We thought it was time to make a change, to present a more vibrant and modern image to a part of the world which is making such headway in the game," said Jack Warner, president of the Football Confederation. "Now, instead of an awkward acronym, we have three simple and appropriate words."

Said general secretary Chuck Blazer: "Our official name remains the same -- Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football -- but the new name is easier to say and easier to understand."