By Steven Goff
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, July 1, 2008
Two days removed from a decisive victory over a conference-leading MLS opponent, D.C. United tonight will face a second-division club in last place. Instead of nearly 36,000 at RFK Stadium, the audience will number maybe 3,600 at Maryland SoccerPlex.
Broadcast coverage has shifted from network television to local radio. David Beckham and Landon Donovan have been replaced on the visiting side by several onetime MLS players.
Goodbye Los Angeles Galaxy, hello Rochester Rhinos.
United has interrupted its regular season surge to begin play in the U.S. Open Cup, a 94-year-old competition modeled after the famed English FA Cup in which teams from all levels of soccer face each other in a single-elimination tournament.
D.C. has entered at the round-of-16 stage and will host the Rhinos, who are 2-5-5 in USL1, an 11-team circuit one level below MLS.
Kickoff is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. in the main stadium of the vast Boyds complex in upper Montgomery County. A victory would allow United to return there next Tuesday and host Chicago (MLS) or Cleveland (USL2) in the quarterfinals.
United, riding a six-game unbeaten streak in league play, has not won the Open Cup since its inaugural 1996 season and has been the victim of upsets to lower-level teams three of the previous nine years. Last summer, relying on reserves, United lost to third-division Harrisburg, 1-0, in the round of 16.
There is added incentive this year: The winner will receive an automatic berth in the 2009-10 Champions League, which determines the best club in the region encompassing North and Central America and the Caribbean.
Although United has prioritized the Open Cup this year, injuries combined with Sunday's physically draining, 4-1 victory over the Galaxy has left Coach Tom Soehn with fewer lineup options. Forward Jaime Moreno said he will not be in uniform because of an abdominal strain and midfielder Santino Quaranta is out for two to three weeks with a hamstring injury.
"These are the times where you have to call on your depth and make sure other guys are stepping up," Soehn said yesterday. "We expect to get some quality minutes out of several of our younger guys. It is time."
Prime candidates include Marc Burch and Rod Dyachenko, who played 63 and 13 minutes respectively Sunday; rookie midfielder Ryan Cordeiro; and forward Francis Doe, who returned Friday from Liberian national team duty. Goalkeeper Zach Wells, who enjoyed his best performance of the season against Los Angeles, will probably start again.
However, the status of veteran midfielder Ben Olsen, who made his 2008 debut Sunday, is unclear.
Olsen came back from a serious ankle injury to play 15 minutes against the Galaxy but said yesterday, "We are going to continue to see if it progresses. The last couple days it stayed about the same. As I increase my workouts, it gets a little more painful. Will that pain subside enough to get through a high-intensity type game?"
In previous Open Cup meetings with Rochester, United prevailed by a 3-0 score in both the 1996 championship game and the 2000 round of 16.
The Rhinos' roster includes former D.C. midfielder Steve Guppy, a player-assistant coach who will serve a red-card suspension tonight; Brazilian forward Mauricio Salles; and ex-MLS players John Ball, Tenywa Bonseu, Leslie Fitzpatrick, Luke Kreamalmeyer and Rey Martinez.
Since MLS teams began competing in the Open Cup 12 years ago, Rochester is the only lower-division team to win the title, in 1999, when it upset Chicago, Dallas, Columbus and Colorado.
"It's a great opportunity for [the younger players], and I'm confident they will step up in these kinds of games," Moreno said. "It's serious. We all want to win it."
United Notes: According to two sources, United has downgraded backup goalkeeper José Carvallo's contract to month-to-month status, which makes it easier for the club to replace him on the roster. . . .
United acquired the rights to rookie midfielder Craig Thompson from Houston for a 2010 supplemental draft pick and then signed him to a developmental contract. Thompson, who starred at Division II Colorado School of Mines, plays primarily on the right side. His signing leaves the team with one roster opening. . . .
In another Open Cup game tonight, third-division Crystal Palace Baltimore will host MLS's New York Red Bulls at Broadneck High School in Annapolis.