DC United Hosts Harrisburg with Open Cup Semifinal Berth on the Line

After a miserable two loss home-stand has crushed their MLS playoff hopes for the third year in a row, DC United can turn their attention to the one tournament where they have had success these past few dismal seasons. As bad as DC has been since the end of 2007, United has found fortune in the oldest continuous cup competition in the US, being finalists the last two years and winning it all in 2008. A spot in the semifinals for the third year in a row and seventh time in 13 tries would be the reward if DC can overcome Harrisburg again this year.

DC met Harrisburg in the quarterfinals of this cup last year as well and won fairly easily as United bolted out to a two goal lead in the first 18 minutes and hung on for the 2-1 win. But the City Islanders have had some success against United as they beat DC 1-0 in Harrisburg the last time DC played a road match in this tournament in 2007, 15 games ago for those counting United’s incredible run of home matches in this tournament. And shocker, United will host the Crew in the semi-finals September 1st if they do beat Harrisburg tomorrow night.

United does have to be the overwhelming favorite to win too, as they have never even come close to losing to a lower division club at home, a perfect 8-0 record outscoring their lower division foes 24-4 in the process, but one of those four goals was scored by Harrisburg in a somewhat dicey second half as United hung on to win last year at the soccer plex. United also has a record of 16-3 versus the lower division over all in this tournament and the City Islanders have one of those wins. In fact, they wore some pretty confident T-shirts in warm-ups last year saying “Let’s Do It (Again!)”.

Obviously, that little dig at DC didn’t work out so well for them last year and Harrisburg is a bit different team this year, and not having a great season in their division either. Plus, considering DC should seriously be focusing on not having a slip up in this tournament which is their last real chance at success this year, it’s tough to imagine United doesn’t find their way into the semifinals at the end of the day.

Some players DC should watch out for are two young forwards, Sheanon Williams and Geoffrey Bloes, both former defenders, Williams for various US youth teams and he had a cup of coffee with RSL before landing in USL. Bloes was left back last year when DC faced them, but was a high scoring forward in college. Both are scoring at a decent clip for Harrisburg this year. Also familiar to DC are central midfielders, Jason Pelletier, and the best player on the field for Harrisburg last year against DC, J.T. Noone.

DC should by no means take Harrisburg lightly though as they deservedly beat a solid Red Bull 1-0 in OT to get this far in the Open Cup. Ghana midfielder Dominic Oppong scored the OT winner to beat Red Bull and get into this quarterfinal and midfielder Kai Kasugurian is another pretty handy midfielder too. In goal, former Red Bull keeper, Danny Cepero got his revenge on his former club too with seven saves in that match and he will no fear of United inherently, and especially as badly as DC offense is playing this year.

However, gone are Nicki Paterson and Ty Shipalane, who DC signed and then cast aside earlier this year. Those two set up and scored the City Islanders’ goal against DC last year. Their defense has also been reworked this year and given up 22 goals in 15 games so far this year, including 14 goals in 8 road matches to boot. But, they have scored 17 goals overall, with 9 of those coming on the road, so they might well expect a goal on the road in this match.

So, it seems like Harrisburg is likely to come in here and play a very defensive style to frustrate DC’s anemic defense and look to snatch a goal on a DC defense that has been known to give up a clanger or two. However, Richmond tried that with a sub-par team for them and was dispatched fairly easily by DC a few weeks ago at George Mason.

DC also has good reasons to start a lot of firepower in this match despite it being DC’s third match in six days. For one thing, their two new big signings need to continue to get integrated more and have been eased into playing time fairly well. Hernandez had a full 90 against LA, but only 30 minutes against Seattle, Boskovic has played barely 55 minutes total. Both should start or play at least play a ton in this match.

Onalfo, who will be coaching his first Open Cup proper match as his two game suspension from the Dallas play-in match ended against Richmond, does have some serious injury concerns though. Pontius and Jakovic both came up lame in the LA match. Pontius with a bone bruise in his foot that will take a couple weeks, and Jakovic out about the same time with a hamstring pull. With Pena still out another week with a quad strain and Marc Burch’s foot relapsing, DC pretty much only has four healthy defenders left on the roster and all of them except Rice played almost all the minutes in the two games this past week. Unless Talley is ready to start after a month off with concussion, Onalfo is really hoping this match doesn’t go to 120 minutes as his defense will be knackered by 90 at best.

Midfield too will be a concern as Pontius is out, and since Castillo was released, Barklage is out for the season, and Wallace is just barely running after his broken foot, United has no natural player for that left side, unless Moreno gets another start there like he did against Richmond. Santino and Najar of course could play there too, but they played both matches already and really should be second half subs only if necessary. Now, Boskovic being started out left might be a daring choice, but I don’t think Onalfo pulls the trigger on that one.

So, I think DC trots out Allsopp and Hernandez at forward, Moreno, King, Morsink, Boyzzz going left to right across midfield in a very similar to the lineup to the one that beat Richmond, and he saves Boskovic, maybe Quaranta and Najar or even Simms for the second half depending on the situation. In defense, it will obviously be Graye, James, Rice, and McTavish with possibly Talley coming in for one of them if necessary. At least Onalfo gets four subs in Open Cup play, so he can scuffle around some players if he gets desperate.

That should be a decent enough lineup to get DC past Harrisburg. For sure, DC’s long home winning streak against the lower divisions in this tournament will get broken one day, and this DC certainly knows how to disappoint their fans, but I just don’t see it happening in this match. DC has to be desperate for any kind of success and for certain shouldn’t be looking past this match, which is usually the only reason an MLS side loses to a lower division team at home.

Plus, with Harrisburg likely to pack it in and cede possession, DC’s anemic offense should be getting plenty of practice at figuring out how to attack better than the keystone kop displays they’ve put on recently. DC will also have their two most athletic and competitive guys playing central defense to clean up whatever counterattacks Harrisburg comes up with.

So, there you have it. I think this one is a nail-biter for DC fans until halftime, but DC pulls away to a one or two zero win in the second half. Soccer gods willing of course, but they seem to smile upon DC in this tournament lately.

Should DC win, they will face the Crew almost certainly in RFK in the semi-final and could easily face their rivals last year, Seattle, in the final if they get past the Crew since the other semifinal is already set with the Sounders hosting surprise Chivas, who upset Houston in Houston to advance to the final four. Now, I wonder where that final would be played if DC gets past Columbus.

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