Harrisburg plays in the USL second division and currently sits in fourth place with a 7-2-4 record. They beat the Ocean City Barons 2-1 to make this stage of the tournament for the first time in their club history. Harrisburg has faced DC United before in an exhibition in 2005, which United won 1-0, but for the life of me, I can’t remember another meeting between the two clubs, so Clash of Capitals “III” has me a bit baffled.
However, the second part of the slogan for the match does make perfect sense, even if it’s a bit hokey. “This Time it’s for Real” couldn’t be more appropriate. United played their previous match in Harrisburg with mostly reserves and did just enough to put on a show for the locals. This time, United can’t afford to take Harrisburg too lightly as the Open Cup is like the Super Bowl for these lower division clubs and they will no doubt play like their lives are on the line considering DC is not immune from early upsets in the Open Cup.
DC has lost road matches to lower level competition in their first round to Charleston 3-4 in 1999, and to Richmond 1-2 in 2004. Both times the team came out flat and disinterested and weren’t able to come back from early deficits in those matches.
Harrisburg is led by team high scorer Mo Odour with five goals, who’s also played for Kenya’s youth national teams, and who scored the only goals in their last two matches to win each of them 1-0. Harrisburg boasts an intimidating group of behemoths in the defense including Mike Lookingland at six feet two out of Fallston Maryland who had a cup of coffee with Real Salt Lake in 2005. Considering their game reports from this season, and the fact their leading scorer only has five goals in 13 matches, it seems likely Harrisburg will play conservative and look to counter for a goal and hang on for the victory.
However, ceding possession to DC for much of the match could be suicide no matter how good their defense is. While United’s South American attackers might get a rest due to DC’s current schedule congestion, Tommy Soehn still has a raft of hungry young talents to trot out there who should be able to break them down enough to cruise to a relatively easy win.
Given that Moreno has been away for a month, and Emilio and Gomez will need some rest at some point if they are to stay effective in MLS play, it seems likely Soehn will go with Addlery and Dyachenko at forward, with Justin Moose playing the central attacking role. It could be Dyachenko in the center if Kpene is healthy, but considering Kpene hasn’t been able to practice yet at full speed coming back from his hamstring injury, that seems unlikely. It’s possible Moreno will get some time as well, but that seems unlikely as he’s been away for so long and he doesn’t need to risk anything playing on a high school field. Possibly if DC needs a spark in the second half, some of the South Americans will get some minutes, but if DC scores first, I think they will be spectators for the whole match.
Out wide, it’s likely Fred, who’s been carrying the team offensively for weeks, will get a breather but I have a suspicion Ben Olsen plays this match. I think Mediate or deRoux will play for Fred, but Benny played miserably down in Houston and will want to atone for that. He’s also an Eastern Pennsylvania native who might want to wow the fans near his old stomping grounds.
In the defense there should be plenty of familiar faces however. Soehn will want Boswell and Vanney continue to build a connection in the center of the defense, and McTavish is young enough to play every day if that’s what it takes to keep his starting job. Namoff might make an appearance for Gros if he’s back from his injury, but if he’s not, then Josh likely plays to continue his learning curve. Possibly Simms for his experience, or even deRoux or Burch gets a run out for Gros against a team that isn’t likely to pressure DC’s backline too heavily.
Typically, you see backup keepers in the early rounds of Open Cup play, but I wonder if Soehn takes a chance on Nolly in this one. First of all, he was hardly confidence inspiring in that loss in Salt Lake, and Perkins might benefit from a bit more time to work out the communication issues with a Vanney as a new player to the system.
This is what makes the Open Cup such a joy. You have lower division teams who are clearly overmatched on paper, but playing for chance to embarrass someone from the elite level. United on the other hand has everything to lose. They beat up on a lower division side and it’s expected, they struggle or lose and it’s a disaster. Also, DC’s younger players need to show they are worth a top level contract against players who likely could play at the higher levels, but they chose the better pay and security of a lower level team.
I think Soehn going with a lot of young players will serve United well. They should bring the energy and determination to match Harrisburg’s intensity, while the experience of an Olsen or Simms, along with the first string defense, ensures that DC closes out a professional win.
United has won the Open Cup in 1996 and made the final in 1997, but lost on PKs to Dallas. Since then however they have reached the semifinals three times losing to NE in 2001, NY in 2003, and Chicago last year.
DC United returns to MLS action this Saturday night hosting FC Dallas at RFK at 7:30.