Cup Run Gives United Reason for Optimism

Young players key to recent turnaround and US Open Cup run
by Peter Muller   |   Friday, August 09, 2013

United Capitol – column on DC United (DCU) & the Washington DC/DMV area soccer scene.

D.C. United’s hope to salvage something positive this season took a big step forward Wednesday night with a 2-0 victory over the Chicago Fire in the semifinals of the U.S. Open Cup.

United now advances to the Cup final against Real Salt Lake at Rio Tinto Stadium on Oct. 1.

Dwayne De Rosario took advantage of an error by Fire goalkeeper Sean Johnson to poke home United’s 1st goal just before halftime and Nick DeLeon doubled the pressure on the home side with his strike in the 48th minute.

Joe Willis and the United defense withstood a late assault by Chicago to preserve the win and send United to their 1st US Open Cup final since 2009.

Before Wednesday night, D.C. had scored just 2 road goals in 2013 and the team’s only victory away from home came on penalty kicks after a scoreless draw with the Richmond Kickers in an earlier round of the Open Cup.

But they have shown improvement in recent games with the addition of new players who seem to better fit the mold of what manager Ben Olsen is looking for.

And for a team that has been through so many struggles this year, the cup run is a source of enthusiasm.

“The way the season has been going for us, just to put ourselves in this position to win a championship really feels amazing and there’s just a really good vibe going on through the team right now,” said DeLeon. “I couldn’t be happier that we put ourselves in this position considering the season we are having.”

Youth brings new spirit

The new vibe DeLeon speaks of correlates to D.C.’s decision last month to bring in a fresh group of young American players in favor of veterans who weren’t getting the job done.

Luis Silva, Conor Doyle, Jared Jeffrey and Collin Martin, all newly acquired by United, have brought badly needed vitality to the club.

And that new life has transformed how United is performing.

“What I’m encouraged about is that the last 2 games we look like a team,” said Olsen. “We have actually played some good stuff and we look like we have some rhythm and our attack is more dangerous.

“Silva is a huge piece that has changed the way we can play,” Olsen continued. “Doyle, Jeffrey, these guys are all now guys that are helping out on the bench and there is just a different feel about the group as well.”

They are also scoring goals, something United struggled to do early in the year.

Silva has put the ball in the net 3 times in 4 games while Doyle and Jeffrey both notched their first United goals in the victory over Montreal last weekend.

Jeffrey’s goal to seal the victory over the Impact, in fact, may prove to be a signature moment for United’s new generation. Academy product Martin, 18, collected the ball near midfield and passed it forward to a streaking Doyle, 21, who unselfishly dished it off to 23-year-old Jeffrey for the easy finish.

“I think it turned when we picked up some really crucial players,” said DeLeon. “They have impacted our team a lot and (are) getting people to play together.”

Veterans return

The new feel at the club, and a return to full fitness, have spurred United captain De Rosario as well.

“He led us tonight,” said Olsen of the victory over the Fire. “His last 2 games he has played hungry and the guys are feeding off that. When Dwayne plays in that manner it is easy to get behind him and follow his lead.”

Chris Pontius also returned as a substitute after missing time with a groin injury.

The challenge for both players, who have struggled with injuries throughout the year, will be to maintain their fitness for the cup final, the only remaining game of consequence this year.

On to Philadelphia

United will resume their regular seasons schedule on Saturday with a trip to Philadelphia to take on the Union.

Coming just 3 days after their cup victory in Chicago, look for Olsen to mix some fresh legs into the starting lineup.

Silva was shaken-up on Wednesday night and reportedly is being evaluated for concussion symptoms. Given United’s history with concussions it is unlikely they will take any risk with him.

Doyle may get the start up front, with Jeffrey a possible replacement for John Thorrington in midfield. Two other young Americans, Ethan White and Taylor Kemp, could get opportunities to start on the backline.

NEXT UP: August 10 – DC United vs. Philadelphia Union, PPL Park, Chester, Pa. 8 p.m. EST, NBC Sports Network.


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Peter is a government relations professional in Washington, DC, and Los Angeles, CA. He has been a DC United season ticket holder since 1997 and has attended every MLS Cup except one – in 1998 when he was busy helping his boss get re-elected to Congress.