Here it comes, just as the tension and pressure ratchets up in Major League Soccer, the magical mystery tour that is the CONCACAF Champions League starts for DC United with a road test on Wednesday in Panama against Arabe Unido.
The Champions League is a benefit of success and in United’s mission statement it mentions winning trophies, but make no mistake the club’s priorities are the Supporter’s Shield and MLS Cup. Still the match in Panama will offer opportunity for United to integrate players who for whatever reason have been limited in minutes.
For United this might be the perfect match for Chris Pontius to continue his recovery from injury. Pontius has only logged 22 minutes in two matches for United since May 30 and his leadership qualities will also be needed to deal with the unpredictability of life on the road in the Champions League.
Arabe Unido is the reigning champion in Panama and is currently in first place in the league. This past weekend Arabe Unido enjoyed a 2-1 win on the road against Sporting San Miguelito. The Expreso Azul, as Arbae Unido is known has already started play in the CCL with a 3-0 win over Montego Bay United.
- The balancing act. Results on the road for United have been disappointing recently, including last Thursday’s 3-1 loss to New York City FC, and that only amplifies the importance of Saturday’s home match in MLS play against San Jose. In the last two matches on the road United has been outshot 42-7. United is not expected to field its first choice starting eleven. As mentioned Wednesday would be a great opportunity for Pontius and it might provide a platform for Facundo Coria who has only featured in seven matches for a total of 138 minutes. Coria can help United keep possession and link the midfield to the forward. We have seen flashes of his quality and he assisted in his debut on the tying goal in the 1-1 draw with New England back in May. In midfield Markus Halsti’s experience and his ability to keep possession will help United stay organized against a very athletic Arabe Unido side. Look for rookies Luke Mishu and Miguel Aguilar to contribute and both have already proven they can thrive under pressure.
- Arabe Unido. Panama is no longer an afterthought in the CONCACAF region. The United States was cruelly reminded of that fact when it lost to Panama in the third place game at this year’s Gold Cup. As recently as 2011 Arabe Unido made the quarterfinals of the CCL. In midfield Jose Gonzalez is a player United will have to focus on and forwards Armando Polo and Renan Addles area threat. Also of concern in attack is Abdiel Arroyo who featured for Panama in the Gold Cup.