A deep lineup with flexible players has allowed D.C. United to burst into the month of June on top of Major League Soccers Eastern Conference and a game away from the quarterfinals of the U.S open Cup. A win over Philadelphia Tuesday at the Maryland SoccerPlex in Boyds, Maryland will put United through to the final eight of the competition.
Continued successes in the U.S. Open Cup will not only give United a chance at its 13th major trophy, but the champion will receive a berth in the CONCACAF Champions League. Its a lucrative incentive and one that head coach Ben Olsen describes as huge and something that has changed this tournament
United is healthier than they have been in a long time, but they are not at full strength. Like they did in their 2-1 win over Richmond to advance to the round-of-sixteen, United will have to play Philadelphia without midfielder Dwayne De Rosario and defender Dejan Jakovic who are with Canada to prepare for World Cup qualifying.
De Rosario joined Canada as MLS player of the month for May after scoring four goals and adding four assists in six league matches. On the season De Rosario has been the only United player to start in all 15 MLS games. The reigning league MVP has been Uniteds constant in a team sheet constantly changing because of injuries.
Forward Chris Pontius is still listed as doubtful with an injured glut muscle, but defender Robbie Russell has been back at training after being sidelined with a hamstring injury and has been upgraded to probable. Only Danny Cruz, who has a hamstring injury, is listed as out among players who have seen regular time.
Its nice to be healthy, said Olsen. Its nice to have some difficult decisions to make because both teams will play as good a lineup as possible. Thats exciting for people to come out and watch a game where you are right on top of the players.
In Richmond it took Marcelo Saragosas goal off a Branko Boskovic corner kick in the 107th minute to eliminate the Kickers. The connection between the two exemplified Uniteds depth. Saragosa has been out of the rotation and Boskovic over the last month has just started to fulfill his potential after being slowed by injuries.
Ive been playing and coaching Open Cup games for a long time now and this is it, every time, Olsen noted after the match. Its never great, the other team is always fighting for their lives and ramped up more than the quote unquote better team, and we survived.
The winning moment in Richmond brought much needed joy to Saragosa. Cruel reality interrupted Saragosas life on the field with the April death of his father in Brazil. Saragosas spring included two trips back home and the Open Cup game served as chance for him to restart his season.
He doesnt have a lot of games Olsen said of Saragosa who has appeared in five league games. I thought as the game went on he got better, got more control of the game and finishing off with a goal was good.
For Boskovic, De Rosarios absence could give him another opportunity to play a more prominent role in the midfield. The game at the SoccerPlex will also mark a return to the place where Boskovic suffered a season-ending knee injury last April in an Open Cup loss to New England.
Uniteds ability to move players on the back line has also been part of the teams success Midfielder Lewis Neal started at left back against Richmond and in the center of the defense Ethan White appeared on the field for the first time this season. White had been out all season recovering from knee surgery after playing in 24 games last season.
In the Union, United will be dealing with a side that is probably putting extra emphasis on the U.S. Open Cup. In league play the Union have stumbled to eighth place and only scored eight goals in eleven games. Recently the Union was shutout in Toronto to give the home team its first win of the season.
In fact the Unions losing performance in Toronto served as motivation its Open Cup match last week against Rochester. The Union responded with a 3-0 win over the Rhinos punctuated by two Freddy Adu goals.