Preview: Crew vs. DC United USOC
Columbus Crew vs. D.C. United at RFK Stadium in the semifinals of the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup.
One of the longest-running rivalries in Major League Soccer will reconvene in the latter stages of the US Open Cup on Wednesday night, but there’s no disguising the differing stakes for these two teams.
Suffering through one of the worst seasons in their history, United are adrift at the bottom of the standings and desperately want an Open Cup trophy to salve their wounds. The Crew were founded by Lamar Hunt – the man whose contributions to North American soccer earned him an honorific from the nation’s oldest tournament – and continue to be operated by Hunt Sports Group, but Robert Warzycha’s squad is also juggling CONCACAF Champions League play and the chase for the MLS Supporters’ Shield for best regular-season record.
Columbus may be distracted, but they already defeated DC 2-0 in their first meeting of the year. Can United’s desire for cup glory enable them to overcome the apparent gulf in quality between these two sides?
Thanks to several seasons of sustained success, the Crew are battling the same crowded schedule that bedeviled United in past years. International and cup matches in midweek have forced Warzycha and his staff to manage players’ minutes and shuffle lineups, but the club’s stability and depth has helped them sustain their form and they remain contenders in three competitions.
There have been signs of strain, however. Emmanuel Ekpo is sidelined with a groin problem, defenders Gino Padula, Chad Marshall and Danny O'Rourke are fighting through nagging injuries, and the arrival of some international reinforcements has been delayed. The Crew were viciously unlucky to lose to Santos Laguna under extremely dubious circumstances in Mexico. After a 0-0 draw with Dallas at home last weekend, the Black-and-Gold must spend nearly a week in Washington for back-to-back meetings with United.
If anyone in MLS can overcome such challenges, it's Columbus. But with 13 matches over the final seven weeks of the season, it's all hands on deck from here on out.
Wednesday night's semifinal has been the most important date on DC's calendar for weeks. Though their extended misery in league play has put the playoffs all but mathematically out of reach and significant rebuilding looms in the offseason, an Open Cup title would bring a trophy – and even more importantly, involvement in CONCACAF Champions League – back to RFK in 2011.
Interim head coach Ben Olsen rested several regulars in last Sunday's 1-0 road loss to Chivas USA and can also bring strikers Danny Allsopp and Pablo Hernandez back into the side after the duo were left at home with illness and fatigue concerns, respectively. But victory over the Crew will require DC to overcome the same concerns that have dogged them all year.
"We have some fresh guys coming in," Olsen said on Tuesday. "I think that’ll help. But it’s still about, on the day, who shows up and who makes the big play and whether or not we can make the play that makes the difference. Last weekend I thought overall was a good performance, but again, we didn’t make the play that counted and [Chivas USA] did. That’s been a theme, an unfortunate theme."
Heroes & Villains
Guillermo Barros Schelotto vs. Clyde Simms: These veterans have faced off on plenty of previous occasions, but the stakes have rarely been higher, particularly for Simms. United’s midfield anchor must keep constant tabs on the Argentinean maestro without compromising his team’s shape or his own contributions in terms of possession and distribution.
“If you’re smart, the way you defend as a team can take that playmaker out of the whole situation,” DC goalkeeper Troy Perkins said. “But if you focus on that one guy so much, then you kind of forget what you’re doing and what you’re about and what the team is trying to do. Collectively, we’ve got to be able to defend properly.”
Stat that makes you go “Hmm...”
United have lost 15 matches this season, but they've won every time they scored the game's first goal.
Keys to the Game
- Schelotto loves to pick out his tall teammates on free kicks, so avoid fouls around the penalty box
- Feed the Aussie: strike Danny Allsopp can thrive on regular, direct service from the wings
- Dent United’s confidence and quieten the home crowd by scoring early
- Close down D.C. phenom Andy Najar quickly, even with double-teams if necessary
OUT: MF Brandon Barklage (L ACL tear); DF Barry Rice (head laceration);
DF Rodney Wallace (L fibula fracture); DF Jed Zayner (R ankle sprain)
OUT: MF Robbie Rogers (L knee surgery); MF Emmanuel Ekpo (R groin strain)