Here comes another round of international competition for three MLS teams, all of which aspire to lift the league trophy in November. Four-time MLS champion D.C. United and defending champ Columbus Crew open CONCACAF Champions League group play Tuesday against Honduran club Marathón and USL-1 upstart Puerto Rico Islanders, respectively. Houston, MLS Cup winner in 2006 and '07, plays Isidro Metapán of El Salvador Wednesday.
"These tournaments are a challenge to us, with our limited rosters, and you travel to some tough places, and it can be really hard if you get a few injuries," said Dynamo coach
Six group games will be played over the next two months, with the top two teams in each of the four groups advancing to the quarterfinals.
Last year, Houston was the only MLS team to reach the quarters: D.C. stumbled in the group phase, and the other two league representatives -- New England and Chivas USA -- were eliminated in the head-to-head preliminary round. Houston fell in the quarterfinals to the eventual champion, Mexican club Atlante, 4-1 on aggregate.
D.C. United got through the preliminary round earlier this month, but needed penalty kicks to edge past El Salvador's Luís Ángel Firpo 5-4 after the teams had traded 1-1 ties.
"I don't think it was the prettiest game, but results matter in these competitions," said midfielder
"This club always puts a lot of emphasis on this tournament. We want to be one of the better teams in this region and this is a way to put a stamp not only in America but abroad and show that D.C. United is a regional power."
One of only two MLS teams to win the CONCACAF Champions' Cup (predecessor to the Champions League), along with the Los Angeles Galaxy, D.C. is looking for some redemption after losing five and tying one of its group games last year. It starts off its schedule Tuesday with a tough opponent in a difficult setting, in San Pedro Sula (10 p.m. ET, Fox Soccer Channel) against Marathón, which beat D.C. twice last year: 2-0 at Estadio Olimpico and 4-2 at RFK.
"It was a tough atmosphere," midfielder
In the quarterfinals last year, Marathón came up against the Puerto Rico Islanders, who advanced to the semis by winning the away leg 1-0 and prevailing 2-1 at home.
"We did it last year and now we'll do it again this year so maybe people will start to believe a little bit more," said Islanders coach
Columbus hosts Puerto Rico in the first group game Tuesday (7 p.m. ET, FSC), on a roll of five straight league victories and eight games unbeaten. In the last win, a 2-0 defeat of FC Dallas Saturday, midfielder
"It's great to have him back," said midfielder
Columbus last played in a CONCACAF competition in '03, when it defeated Árabe Unido of Panama in the first round and lost to Mexican club Morelia in the Champions' Cup quarterfinals.