D.C. United Has Plenty to Do Before Open Cup Semifinals

"I just want peace of mind," said defensive midfielder Clyde Simms, who will travel to Germany to consult a world-renowned hernia surgeon about his injury. (By Mike Stobe -- Getty Images)
  Enlarge Photo    
By Steven Goff
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, July 21, 2009

As D.C. United was making final preparations for its U.S. Open Cup semifinal against the second-division Rochester Rhinos on Tuesday night at Maryland SoccerPlex, personnel matters remained at the forefront Monday.

Defensive midfielder Clyde Simms, who has started 48 consecutive MLS matches, was planning to see a German specialist for possible hernia surgery. Defender Dejan Jakovic was back from a month of Canadian national team duty and aiming to return to the lineup this weekend.

Newly signed midfielder Danny Szetela continued to await international clearance before becoming eligible to make his debut. And the front office commenced negotiations with a young defender from Belgium who made a favorable impression in workouts last week.

The primary concern was Simms, who aggravated an adductor-groin ailment Saturday against the Colorado Rapids and will travel to Munich on Wednesday to be examined by world-renowned hernia surgeon Ulrike Muschaweck. If an operation is required, Simms would be sidelined about three weeks.

"Honestly, I just want peace of mind," said Simms, who played all but three of 2,700 minutes in the 2008 regular season and has started each of 18 league matches this year. "If [surgery] is what it takes, then I will be happy about it."

Said Coach Tom Soehn: "It's important for him to get checked sooner rather than later so we won't battle this throughout the rest of the year. It's a way of taking any guessing out of it."

Among the candidates to fill Simms's role is Szetela, 22, a New Jersey native with extensive youth national team experience who joined United from Italian club Brescia last week. D.C. officials are hoping his paperwork is finalized before kickoff.

Jakovic would be a nice addition to the lineup, but after starting three of Canada's four Gold Cup matches and traveling between several U.S. cities, he needs a break. The central defender said he is planning to play Saturday at San Jose.

With Jakovic unavailable, United's defensive corps remains thin. However, General Manager Dave Kasper said the club is in talks with representatives for David Habarugira, 20, a native of Brussels who rose through the youth system at Belgian power Anderlecht before playing in a lower division.

Although Habarugira has options overseas, Kasper said he is optimistic that United will strike a deal. If that were to occur, Habarugira would have to wait a few weeks until visa issues are finalized. United will not offer a contract to defender Jean-Francois Bell, another recent candidate.

Having played Saturday and needing to travel cross-country later this week, United is expected to use a blend of regulars and reserves against a Rochester team that is in fifth place with a 7-5-5 record in USL1, the second tier of the American soccer pyramid. The Rhinos lost to United, 2-0, in the round of 16 last year, but upset reigning MLS champion Columbus at the same stage this summer.

Four other MLS teams have lost to lower-level opponents in the Open Cup, a 94-year-old tournament involving clubs from all levels of U.S. soccer in pursuit of a $100,000 prize and a probable berth in an international event.

"The tendency has been for MLS teams to play down to these USL teams," United defender Bryan Namoff said. "It's just a difficult match -- you're not playing in a big stadium, some other guys are on the field -- and sometimes the focus isn't there."

With a victory, United will host MLS's Seattle or Houston in the Sept. 2 championship game at RFK Stadium. In last year's final, D.C. defeated the second-division Charleston Battery, 2-1.

"I imagine [the Rhinos] will come out and play a pretty solid defensive game and hope that they can counterattack," said Soehn, whose squad is 9-0-4 at home in all competitions, including two victories at Maryland SoccerPlex. "It will be important for us to break them down early and get them to open up."

© 2009 The Washington Post Company