RSL: United builds impressive international résumé
When the teams take the field tonight, Real Salt Lake will be D.C. United's third opponent from different countries in seven days.
It's nothing new for D.C. United, which has built the most impressive record of any MLS team in international play since 1997.
On Wednesday in Washington, D.C., coach Tom Soehn's team defeated Mexican powerhouse Pachuca, 2-1, in the semifinals of the CONCACAF Champions Cup. United lost the series on total goals though, due to a 2-0 defeat a week earlier in Mexico.
Which D.C. United will show up tonight - a haggard bunch playing its fifth game in 14 days, or a motivated group out to assuage the sting of the Champions Cup defeat?
If recent history is any indication, RSL should beware. Last Saturday, faced with a short turnaround after traveling midweek to Pachuca (and playing at 8,000 feet above sea level), D.C. United rebounded to thump Toronto FC 4-1.
Since the start of 2005, D.C. is 5-2-2 in MLS games within a week after an international match. In fact, D.C. United's participation in international games creates multiple benefits that carry over to the MLS season.
For starters, United is continually playing challenging games against top-flight competition. Nothing prepares a club for league play better than road games in hostile foreign environments. RSL, in contrast, has played only two meaningful games in the past six months, and spent most of its preseason playing in country-club environments against teams with nothing to gain.
Next, international games create revenue streams. United has played seven home international games since the beginning of 2006. With an average attendance of 16,770, it's safe to say the club grossed more than $2 million in ticket sales, plus revenue from sponsorship, broadcasts, merchandising and prize money.
The rich are getting richer, meaning RSL will face an increasingly difficult task to crack MLS' elite.
Third, United's international play creates exposure to foreign players - and the club undoubtedly used some of its sway, and ticket revenue, to entice Argentina World Cup star Marcelo Gallardo to join the team this year as its designated player.
So while RSL has every aspiration of representing the United States in regional and global competitions, winning domestically is required first.
Even with three new opportunities for international play (MLS-inspired SuperLiga and Pan Pacific Championships, plus CONCACAF's Champions League which debuts this fall), RSL is on the outside looking in as five teams - including D.C. United - are sharing the 11 MLS slots in these tournaments.
RSL still needs to take the first steps toward international glory by winning. At home. Tonight.
* Former RSL GM STEVE PASTORINO contributes regularly to The Tribune on soccer. He welcomes your comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.