DC United takes on the New England Revolution in the second stage of the MLS qualifiers for the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup tomorrow night at the Soccerplex in Boyds, Maryland, United’s 17th straight home match in the oldest Cup tournament in the country.
The Open Cup, especially the play-in matches have long been a place for reserves and sometime starters to show their stuff, and with DC coming off a bad loss to NY and facing a short week having to travel to Houston for their next MLS match Friday night, it seems almost certain United will go with a mixed bag of players in this match like they did against Philly a couple weeks ago.
But, considering Nowak trotted out his entire starting lineup, and New England now has a couple of shiny new players to integrate into their tactics, Nicol might just play his big guns to make a run at the Dewar Trophy they last won in 2007, and if the play of Benny Feilhaber and Rajko Lekic this past weekend against KC is any indication, that could be trouble if Nicol goes that route.
Of course predicting Open Cup lineups is a crap shoot, but DC coach Ben Olsen seems pretty likely to go with a very similar lineup to the one that felled Philly. I’d expect Charlie Davies, Chris Pontius, Fred, Bill Hamid, and quite possibly Dax McCarty, Clyde Simms, Dejan Jakovic, and just maybe Marc Burch and Perry Kitchen will get the night off.
So, that leaves rookie Blake Brettschneider and Josh Wolff (or Joseph Ngwenya or maybe Santino Quaranta if Wolff is rested too, but I don’t think so) starting at forward. I think Santino plays the left side of midfield while Branko Boskovic gets the start in central midfield with Kurt Morsink, and Andy Najar on the right. It could be McCarty will play centrally as he only played 45 minutes against NY which would push Boskovic to the left. Frankly, I would do this (and play iron man Simms, too) as it gives you a chance to assess whether this formation has any future. Boskovic is playing so well lately, Olsen simply has to figure out a combination that gets him on the field other than mop up duty and reserve league starts.
Defense will be interesting. Against Philly, Olsen used Daniel Wollard on the left, Rodrigo Bresesco, Ethan White, and Brandon Barklage on the right and that lineup played very well together once Breseco got hurt and Jakovic replaced him. Perhaps Breseco gets another chance, and that would be prudent to see if he redeems himself, but I wonder if Olsen won’t want to give Kitchen more time to integrate back into the team and see how the rookie tandem with White works out. I wonder if Burch will be sat too. He was horrendous against NY, and he might get another start to get some confidence back after that thrashing he took. If so, then I think Korb gets the start too to see how the three rookies play together and if that will be viable in MLS play, if not, then it’s Wollard and Barklage on the corners for sure. Pat Onstad in goal has already been all but announced.
As for the Revs, Nicol is a tough one to figure out. He has rarely taken this tournament seriously, and indeed the last time DC faced NE, Nicol gifted United a trip to the final by playing one lone starter, in a semi-final where the Revs were the defending Cup champions no less. Of course DC took advantage and then edged Charleston for the Dewar Trophy in 2008. Thanks Steve!
New England also has a road trip to LA to take on Chivas looming this weekend too, so Nicol seems likely to be a bit cautious. If I had to guess, he won’t start his big guns, but they will come along and play if it’s close late. I suspect he plays Zach Shilawski and Kenny Mansally (or maybe Kheli Dube, but he seems to have dropped out of the Revs plans lately after signing a relatively big deal this past off season). Perhaps there will be an Ilija Stolica sighting, but I suspect that big stiff is buried deep in Nicol’s doghouse, so that seems pretty unlikely.
In midfield, I think Nicol gives Former French International, Ousmane Dabo a shot at his first MLS minutes after recently returning to fitness. Likely he will play centrally along with whatever bruiser of the week Nicol chooses to loose on United, Pat Phelan or Stephen McCarthy (or maybe even Shalrie Joseph gets his old job back after playing forward this past weekend). Then the Zak Boggs should play the left and Sainey Nyassi on the right. Maybe Tierney plays the left midfield, but I think it way more likely Nicol rests his creaky left back Didier Domi, and plays Tierney as the left back.
In NE’s defense, Tierney on the left as mentioned, then Ryan Cochrane and Darrius Barnes in the center, and probably Kevin Alston at right back. Unless maybe one of his starting central defenders gets the nod to start, most likely Franco Coria as it won’t be long before he gets some mandatory MLS rest with the suspensions he has looming in his future, then Barnes will play the right. Seems likely Bobby Shuttleworth plays in the nets, which means a big sigh of relief as United’s forwards can leave their cranial protectors at home for this one.
Looking at those matchups, DC has about as many positives as they have negatives. Brettschneider and Wolff (or Ngwenya) are about even with Papa Gino Cochrane and Long Throw Barnes. Boskovic and Morsink should have an edge over Dabo and Phelan (or McCarthy), but not if Joseph plays. Najar and Barklage on DC’s right should have an edge over the Energizer Bunny Boggs and under-rated utility man Tierney, but Tino and Woolard (or Burch) are even at best against Nyassi and Alston or Long Throw Barnes.
Defensively is pretty dicey too. Mansally tore up DC last year and Shilawski threw one into the net against DC a few weeks ago, so they could easily give Ole Breseco and White troubles, but Kitchen playing would swing this DC’s way. Obviously, if Nyassi and Boggs pin back Najar and Quaranta respectively, then DC is in for a world of trouble.
It will get even worse if the game is tied and Nicol sends in the troops, Feilhaber and Lekic. Then again, Olsen has some troops he can use too, and NE needed a second half comeback to overcome a dog tired Sporting KC team playing their fifth straight away match last week. So, even with their new talent on the field, they aren’t invincible by any means.
Should be interesting. Should United win, they are scheduled to play Sporting KC with the final MLS slot in the Open Cup proper on the line. It will be DC’s first away match in this tournament since losing to the Harrisburg City-Islanders in 2007. I say scheduled because until United actually takes the field somewhere other than RFK or the Soccerplex in this tournament, I won’t believe it. I don’t put it past Payne in the slightest to find some way to get this match switched to friendly confines.