D.C. Gears Up for Open Cup Challenge

Opportunity for positive result amid a difficult season
by Peter Muller   |   Thursday, September 26, 2013

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

As D.C. United grinds towards the conclusion of the worst season in the club’s history, next week’s U.S. Open Cup final against Real Salt Lake offers an opportunity for some redemption.

Capturing the Lamar Hunt Trophy would not only bring $250,0000 in prize money and a spot in next year’s CONCACAF Champions League tournament, but it would inject enthusiasm into an organization that is hoping to retool for 2014 with a young squad, a popular manager and plans for a new stadium.

United has an uphill battle, however, facing a Salt Lake team that sits 2nd in MLS’ Western Conference and will be playing in front of an overwhelmingly supportive home crowd.

D.C. will also have to overcome a season-long inability to win away from home, although their only 2 road victories of the year came in Open Cup competitions.

And United will need to reverse a recent trend in which they have gone winless in 7 straight games.

United manager Ben Olsen has been focused in recent weeks on preparing his club for this opportunity to win a title.

He is expected to rest key starters this weekend when his team visits Toronto, despite the fact that playing against a similarly struggling team provides a rare opportunity for a league win.

And he will have a largely healthy squad to select from, with Daniel Woolard the only starter questionable with a hamstring strain.

Chris Pontius’ recent return to the lineup has bolstered United’s attack.  He is expected to man one wing with Nick DeLeon on the opposite side and Dwayne DeRosario and Luis Silva up top, representing the most potent combination United has fielded this year.

One key decision for Olsen will be at goalkeeper, where the coach has kept faith with Joe Willis throughout the Cup run but recently suggested first-string keeper Bill Hamid may get the nod for the final.

Road to the Open Cup

United’s 2013 Open Cup campaign began inauspiciously in May, with a shootout victory over the Richmond Kickers that came after 120 minutes of scoreless play at the City Stadium in Richmond.  Willis saved 2 penalty shots to allow United to squeak past their minor league affiliate and advance to the next round.

United’s next match was a home contest at the Maryland Soccerplex against I-90 rivals Philadelphia Union, with both teams fielding full strength squads.  United Captain Dwayne De Rosario led the way, scoring a hat trick that propelled D.C. to a 3-1 victory.

Next up, United hosted the New England Revolution, again at the Maryland Soccerplex.  Pontius, De Rosario and Lionard Pajoy all scored in a 3-1 victory that advanced the club to the semifinal round of the tournament.

Finally, United faced its toughest challenge – a road contest against the Chicago Fire.  United had performed abysmally on the road all year – and in fact has still yet to record an MLS victory away from home in 2013. 

But on this early August evening, De Rosario and DeLeon scored goals just before and just after halftime to give United a victory and send them to their first U.S. Open Cup final since 2009.

D.C.’s Open Cup History

D.C. United achieved early success in the U.S. Open Cup.  In 1996, less than 2 weeks after a dramatic come from behind victory over the Los Angeles Galaxy gave them their 1st MLS title, United hosted the Rochester Raging Rhinos in the Cup final. 

Raul Diaz Arce, Eddie Pope and Jaime Moreno all scored in the 3-0 victory before just over 7,000 fans at RFK Stadium.

United returned to the Cup final the following year but lost on penalty kicks to the Dallas Burn.

It was more than a decade before United appeared in another Open Cup final, this time hosting the Charleston Battery at RFK. Goals by the Brazilian duo of Luciano Emilio and Fred gave United a 2-0 victory and their last major trophy.

United once again reached the final in 2009, hosting the Seattle Sounders for what proved to be an embarrassing 2-1 loss to the upstart MLS squad that featured a meltdown by United goalkeeper Josh Wicks that earned him a red card for violent conduct.

D.C. United Notes

Before heading to Salt Lake, United will 1st travel to Toronto for a clash on Saturday between the bottom 2 teams in the Eastern Conference.  Olsen is expected to field a largely 2nd-string squad as he rests his starters for the far more meaningful game on Tuesday night.

Expect to see homegrown players like Conor Shanosky and Collin Martin play significant minutes.

NEXT UP: September 28 - DC United vs. Toronto FC, BMO Field, Toronto. 1:00 p.m. EST, Monumental Network, MLS Live.


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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.