A Long Night in New Jersey, but United Can't Rest With Revolution Coming
Tuesday, August 12, 2008
D.C. United knew all along that fatigue would be an issue heading into today's U.S. Open Cup semifinal. What the club did not anticipate was the emotional bruising and sleep deprivation.
As it hurriedly prepared for tonight's meeting with the New England Revolution at RFK Stadium, United was feeling the effects of not only playing on Sunday evening, but losing to the New York Red Bulls, 4-1, and then sitting in major traffic delays on the bus ride home from the Meadowlands.
The players passed time in bumper-to-bumper traffic on the New Jersey Turnpike, caused by a tree that had fallen in the roadway, by watching movies, including "There Will Be Blood."
"I think we finished watching it before we got out of New Jersey," midfielder Clyde Simms said, "and it's a long movie."
Later, the team encountered delays in Delaware and north of Baltimore. Some players did not get to sleep until 4 a.m. yesterday, just a few hours before they had to report to RFK for conditioning and meetings. Team captain Jaime Moreno, who traveled to and from Giants Stadium in his car, stopped at a friend's house in northern Maryland to sleep. He then went directly to work in the morning.
"A shocking trip, all the way around," Coach Tom Soehn said. "It feels like three days ago."
Soehn would have loved a three-day cushion before resuming play in the Open Cup, a 94-year-old tournament that runs concurrent to the MLS regular season and involves teams from all levels of American soccer. In years past, with little at stake, MLS teams relied heavily on reserves. But for the first time, the reward for winning the championship is a berth alongside other top clubs from North and Central America and the Caribbean in the 2009-10 CONCACAF Champions League.
After disappointing results in two international events and middling status in MLS this season, United has prioritized this tournament. With a victory tonight, D.C. would face a second-division opponent, the Seattle Sounders or Charleston Battery, on Sept. 3. United, which has not won the title since 1996 and not been to the final since '97, would host Charleston but play at Seattle.
Reflecting on United's worst-ever loss to the rival Red Bulls, defender Bryan Namoff said: "It's just one of the games that needs to be swept under the rug. I think guys are now going to come in with a mentality that [tonight] is a critical game for us."
With Soehn having to rely on many of the same starters from the New York match, fatigue will undoubtedly become an issue. Defender-midfielder Marc Burch's red card suspension does not help matters.
Fresher players include Moreno, who left Sunday's game at halftime with a sore back but expects to be available tonight; Moreno's replacement, Santino Quaranta; defender Gonzalo Martínez, a regular all year who played only 34 minutes Sunday; and defender Gonzalo Peralta, who returned to the active roster against the Red Bulls after being sidelined by sports hernia surgery but did not play.
"It's a great opportunity for us to bounce back and put [Sunday's game] away," Moreno said. New England "is going to be a big test for us and we have to come out stronger, concentrate and not make the same mistakes."
The Revolution, defending Open Cup champion and Eastern Conference leader, might have fatigue issues of its own. It won the SuperLiga but then relinquished a late lead to visiting Chicago on Saturday for a 2-1 league loss that snapped a nine-game unbeaten streak in all competitions.
United players do not believe the effects of Sunday's loss will carry over tonight.
"Right after the game in the locker room, we were saying how we have to put it behind us," Simms said. "I think we will be okay."
United Notes: Argentine playmaker Marcelo Gallardo, sidelined since June 29 with a sports hernia injury, is unavailable again tonight, Soehn said. The club had hoped he would be ready to play a portion of this match. . . . Liberian goalkeeper Louis Crayton, who has agreed to a contract, participated in his first workout and could be cleared to play this week. . . . The only other time United and the Revolution have met in the Open Cup was the 2001 semifinals, won by host New England, 2-0.