For D.C. United, it’s all about the U.S. Open Cup. And with the championship match just two weeks away, Ben Olsen is gearing his efforts toward the Oct. 1 showdown with Real Salt Lake at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, Utah.
The MLS playoffs have been out of the question for months, leaving United’s league activity in these waning days as preparation for the title game.
“We thought a lot about how we want to go about the next [few] weeks from a minutes standpoint, travel standpoint and training standpoint,” Olsen said. “We are pretty mapped out.”
Olsen declined to go into detail, but Saturday’s league match at New England will probably serve as the last full-fledged competition for the regulars. United does play again Sept. 28 at Toronto FC, but because it falls three days before the Open Cup final, Olsen seems certain to leave many of his starters at home.
Barring injuries, most of the lineup against RSL appears set: Dwayne De Rosario at forward, Luis Silva in attacking midfield, Chris Pontius and Nick DeLeon on the wings, Perry Kitchen partnering with Lewis Neal or John Thorrington in central midfield, with Chris Korb at right back, James Riley at left back, and Dejan Jakovic and Daniel Woolard in the middle. (Woolard, however, is recovering from a hamstring ailment.)
The goalkeeper remains unclear, even though Joe Willis started each of the previous four Open Cup matches. In a break from policy, Olsen publicly declared him the semifinal starter prior to gameday against Chicago last month, saying Willis had carried the club through the tournament and deserved the call.
But for the final, “this is a different game,” Olsen said. “He did get us here — there is no question. Joe did a great job.”
However, “we are evaluating them both,” he said of Willis and Bill Hamid, who has started 21 of 28 regular season matches. “Right now, Bill is our starting goalkeeper and we will put in the best goalkeeper at the time to give us a chance to win.”
*Olsen is encouraged by Pontius’s return from a long layoff, caused by a hamstring injury, and the 69 quality minutes he logged Saturday against Los Angeles.
“He changes the way we play — he’s another weapon and he opens space for others,” Olsen said of the veteran attacker, who scored United’s first goal. “His movements were dynamic.”
*Reviewing the 2-2 draw against the Galaxy, Olsen said:
“We still have to improve on the defensive side. When you really break it down, we could have been punished several times. But overall, I am pleased with the performance. I am pleased with the group coming back twice to get something out of the game. Our possession was good. We got into enough dangerous spots to win the game. And we ended particularly well with a good 15-20 minutes of energy that I haven’t seen from this group in a while, where we were the aggressors near the end.”
He added: “As strange as it may sound three-quarters of the way through the season, we are getting fit.”
“There have been a lot of guys up and down through injuries. That is part of it. I didn’t do a good enough job in preseason with these guys. That is another reason. So I feel like we are just now rounding into where we needed to be earlier in the season.”
*Three regulars missed Saturday’s match with injuries:
Thorrington (quadriceps) practiced Tuesday and should be available Saturday at New England.
Woolard (hamstring) worked on passing drills and might be back this weekend.
Midfielder Jared Jeffrey (ankle) remains sidelined and expects to resume regular workouts in four or five days.
*Remember midfielder Syamsir Alam? The Indonesian prospect, who has not appeared in any league matches, remains abroad at national team camp. He departed in July and was supposed to return around Sept. 1. However, the Indonesian federation asked to extend the leave in order for Alam to continue preparing for the Southeast Asian Games in December in Myanmar. He will return to Washington at some point this fall, United General Manager Dave Kasper said.