Ah, the Open Cup! The purity of a knockout tournament, open to any and all comers. A title won by DC United last year as the one truly shining moment in a dismal season (thanks in no small way to the Nicol nudge in the semifinals!). However, to some it may seem this year is a little less “open” for DC United than usual as they have to qualify, but if you think about it, all teams have to “qualify” in some way or another, but more on that later.
As to the match itself, DC United might well be catching FC Dallas at the perfect time. They are playing horrible in league play, needing a gift of a penalty to edge Toronto for their first win of the season Sunday. Also, they have to turn around and travel here to play United barely 3 days later, then turn right around and go to LA Saturday in about as crucial a match for them as there is in MLS in April. Plus, DC has the luxury of having plenty of options to trot out there confidently given the gloriously deep bench they have created this year that has got a whole troop of guys hungry to win or keep their spot in the starting lineup.
Considering Moreno, Quaranta and Fred can hardly be thought of as starters yet this season, they are, in effect, some pretty nice reserve players to fill out an Open Cup squad! There’s also Greg Janicki, Devon McTavish, Andrew Jacobson, Ange N’Silu, Francis Doe, even Boyzzz Khumalo all of whom are experienced, or have played solid minutes this season. Even Wicks, if he is healthy and starts in goal for the dodgy Crayton, has two games under his belt already.
Now, that said, I do not think Soehn tampers with his lineup too much. There’s really no reason to as this team is used to multiple games per week over the past two years, and really has no travel to speak of as the weekend game coming up is Sunday in NY after having played NE at home this past weekend. The only changes I would maybe expect are to see if guys like Janicki, Santino and Fred can work their way back to full fitness, or maybe a suprise sub or two from deep down the bench who has earned some time. Also, it wouldn’t surprise me to see Moreno and Gomez given the night off given their hamstring twinges from the NE match, as well as Olsen getting some rest before the pounding his ankles will take on the Meadowlands rock hard turf.
If that’s the case, I think Pontius plays forward alongside Emilio so Quaranta can play wide and Fred can start for Gomez along with Simms (or maybe John DiRaimondo if Soehn has Simms deep in the doghouse) and Jacobson in the center. But, the left side might be interesting. Wallace has been playing there, but has fallen off the past two weeks despite some promising attacks here and there. He may well start in the back for Burch, who had a howler and was benched against NE. However, Wallace wasn’t much better back there, so maybe both of them get a chance to redeem themselves, or maybe Janicki gets into the starting XI and Burch gets to think about what he needs to do to keep his job, especially as Avery John is apparently on the way here.
Dallas, on the other hand has the short week and will be playing the middle game of 3 games in 6 days with two long travel days, so they almost certainly will rest some guys. However, since their starters aren’t really all that scary, their bench is even less so. Plus, you have to wonder how seriously they will take this match given their very poor start in MLS. Surely, they have to put the focus there. But, we’ll see. Dallas was knocked out early last year by the Battery, but FCD went all out with their full starting lineup and the situation wasn’t much different a year ago, so maybe Hyndman plays his best. We’ll see.
Speaking of past Open Cups, though, there is reason for concern in terms of playing Dallas given their previous success. Dallas has made the semifinals or final 6 of 13 years. In fact, they have been in the Open Cup final two of the past four years, losing to NE and LA in 2007 and 2005 respectively. And in the 2005 tourney, they beat United in Germantown on penalties (that cursed Anchovy!!), just as they did to win the Dewar trophy over DC United on penalties in the 1997 final. United’s lone victory over them in the Open Cup was way back in the 1996 semis on the way to DC’s first Open Cup title.
So, Dallas can certainly be a dangerous team in this tournament. Obviously, Kenny Cooper is their most dangerous player, and I suspect he will play, but Dave Van den Bergh is coming on, and Ferreira looks like he’s beginning to adjust to MLS, so FCD’s attack can be pretty intimidating, and that’s even before Cunningham gets off the bench.
It will be a good test for Jakovic to see how he measures up against the dynamic Cooper and the wily smurf, Ferreira. Assuming, he continues to anticipate plays well and cuts out trouble before it begins. DC should be in good shape, especially as I can’t believe any combination of players United uses in midfield will have too much trouble controlling whatever combination FCD uses. Might be smart to play McTavish on the right specifically to contain VdB, but really, Santino or Pontius are fully capable of doing the job too.
Which brings us to the biggest edge DC has over FCD. Dallas’ defense is abysmal. Drew Moor is the only solid player they have. Wagner and Dello-Russo are somewhat competent from time to time, but can be beaten. Then in the middle George John is terrible, and even if Daniel Torres is back to fitness, he isn’t much better than he was at RSL and Chivas before getting drummed out of the league. Purdy has fallen out of contention lately for whatever reason, but he was a stiff too. Plus, Burse is a wild card in goal and is coming off a bad game on Sunday.
Bottom line is DC should be able to hang some goals on these guys especially at home. As long as DC’s defense keeps their chances to a minimum, United should advance easily. Next up in the qualification process is either SJ or NY. So, two wins and DC is in the tournament proper ready to defend their title.
However, my argument is that they are in fact in the tournament now. Qualifying games are in fact tournament games in my opinion. I see the point people are making about it being odd the defending champion has to qualify, but I really don’t see the big deal, and even if their was one, it’s MLS’ fault, not USSF or the Open Cup rules.
See the tournament really is open to everyone, but it’s not feasible to have every team in every league in this gigantic country play each other, so USSF just tells each league here’s your guaranteed spots, you play the games to qualify the teams to use them. So, every league sets up their own games, or rules, or whatever and off we go.
MLS in their vast wisdom has decided the top 6 in league play the previous year get slots, and the bottom of the table plays each other to qualify for the last two slots. Well, DC finished 10th, so they have to qualify. I have no problem with that, but I also consider those play-in matches to actually be part of the tournament too. I think MLS should amend their qualifying process to include the Cup winner getting one of the top six slots if they aren’t there already, but it’s still a fair process even if they don’t change that in my opinion.
So there you have it. DC has their first of hopefully many matches to defend their Open Cup title tomorrow night and they have pretty much all the advantages too. Soccer gods willing, they advance and probably host the next round if it’s NY or travel to SJ if the Quakes knock off NY. A “coin flip” will determine the host stadium for the next round, but DC and NY pay way too much rent to really want to host the match, but DC will fork over the money as they will draw the bigger crowd for certain. I believe SJ has the more cost efficient stadium option, so if they beat NY, they will win the “flip” count on it.
Since there’s an MLS match Wednesday, I’ll go over my predictions from last week a little early this week. As usual, it was bit of a brutal week. DC, out-shooting NE 57 to 1, ends up with the tie. RSL laid an egg in NY and the Fire failed to hold onto a freakin’ 2 goal lead at home. While Weyland screwed me again gifting a PK to Dallas so they could edge Toronto. Seriously, Ferreira just kicked the ball up into Wynne’s hand!! The ball played the hand! There was no advantage. ARGGGGHH!
Still, there was some good news. LA and SJ tied as I predicted and Chivas rolled Seattle as well. I also picked the Houston score exactly and got the goal scorer too. I should get bonus points for that! Anyway, 3 and 4 on the week leaves me at 18 and 19 overall, Vegas put off for another week.
The Wednesday and Thursday matches:
Chivas ties TFC 1-1 in Toronto Kljestan and Guevara, Barrett misses 8 more clear shots.
Like Dorothy, NY comes back to earth in KC and loses 2-0 Arnaud and Lopez.
The rest in my NY preview.