CHARLESTON, S.C. — The Carolina Challenge Cup ended on a soggy note, as both of the final matches were canceled due to inclement weather, but that doesn't mean there weren't lessons to be learned in the Palmetto State. With the small sample size in mind, we assigned grades to the three Eastern Conference hopefuls in attendance: D.C. United, Chicago Fire and Columbus Crew.
D.C. UNITED (2-0-0, 4 GF / 1 GA): More than anything else, the 2012 Carolina Challenge Cup taught us one thing: Hamdi Salihi comes as advertised. The guy just scores goals, as evidenced by his two strikes in less than 90 minutes of action against the Fire and Battery.
Neither came with Dwayne De Rosario on the field, however, and United were also without Perry Kitchen and Bill Hamid during their two warmup matches, although the duo arrived late in the week from US Olympic camp. At this point, the fact that they haven't had their first team on the field together much ahead of opening day has to be the main concern for D.C.
Still, Ben Olsen's squad looked comfortable and confident in the second half of both of their games to walk away with the tournament crown, but they also looked shaky matching up with Patrick Nyarko and Dominic Oduro's speed and were put under pressure by the Battery at times, leaving them with plenty of rough spots to iron out before March 10.
CHICAGO FIRE (1-1-0, 1 GF / 1 GA): If Nyarko and Oduro can finish their opportunities in 2012, this is going to be a team to reckon with. If they can't, Chicago are going to be overly reliant on their midfield to pick up the slack.
The Ghanaian duo terrorized D.C. for the first half an hour in the tournament opener before Nyarko left the match as a precaution, finding space in the chanels to exploit and turning the corner on United's center backs, particularly Dejan Jakovic. What they didn't manage to do, however, was put the ball in the back of the net. Federico Puppo cleaned up a loose ball to seal a victory against the Crew, but Frank Klopas needs Nyarko and Oduro to produce.
Behind those two, the Fire looked solid, giving little away to United and keeping the Crew at bay without expending too much effort. Pável Pardo looks fit and motivated, and the rest of the pieces around him seem to be falling into place.
COLUMBUS CREW (0-1-1, 2 GF / 3 GA): Robert Warzycha's team has a solid foundation in place, but too many parts were missing to truly get an indication of what's to come in 2012 for Columbus.
William Hesmer ramped up his training in South Carolina, but didn't play a minute. Neither did Dilly Duka, who returned from Olympic duty with Kitchen and Hamid. Warzycha was planning on using Saturday night's game against D.C. as a final run through before opening the season in Colorado, but it didn't happen as rain left the field unplayable, leaving the Crew a little bit behind the curve.
Still, rookies Kirk Urso and Ethan Finlay looked good, Milovan Mirosevic was assured on the ball and surprisingly biting in the tackle and Tony Tchani was physical, if a little foul prone, anchoring the midfield. One concern is whether or not the Crew can create enough chances from open play.