Tampa Bay Sports Day

United cruises to solid 2-0 Open Cup win

In most countries the National Open Cup will present a top division professional team with increasingly strong competition as it advances through the brackets. The US Open Cup presents more of a roller coaster ride for MLS teams which first play into the competition against similarly strong teams then drop down to meet lesser teams looking for upsets.

DC United had to battle past MLS sides FC Dallas and Real Salt Lake to then take on the Richmond Kickers who went down 2-0 in a reasonably contested game. Last night’s 2-0 victory over the Harrisburg City Islanders was less difficult to achieve, but the outcome remained in doubt, however feeble, until Harrisburg went down to 10 men with the ejection of Tyler Ruthven in the 75th minute.

Throughout the evening DC proved faster of foot and faster in thought and execution. Their superior ball control individually and collectively allowed them a level of comfort and confidence the pleased the 2,089 in attendance.

DC Coach Curt Onalfo had certain expectations, “Our whole goal going into this game was to make sure we had the right approach, and we started well. I thought we started both halves very well; I thought there were times we played very good soccer as well.”

He got exactly what he hoped for in the very first minute of the game as Santino Quaranta broke down the left side and slid a perfect ball across to a fast closing Branko Boskovic who simply pushed it neatly into the net. Harrisburg held to their strategy, but their odds of an upset went way down.

The entire plan of lower division sides is to play hard and athletically, hoping to take the game out of the technical realm by unbalancing their more skillful opponent. The longer a tie stands, the better chance the weaker side has to somehow slip a goal in and walk out a winner.

Veteran Captain Carey Talley has seen it before, “They still came out and a lot of credit to them, they actually played some good soccer, even when they were down a man. You can see why they were tough to beat. With these teams, a lot of the time they’re going to be younger players and they’re going to come out and they’re going to run hard.”

Still, try as they might, Harrisburg failed to make even one shot on goal while United had nine and saw their second go in as Boyzzz Khumalo chipped what looked like cross in from the right wing only to see it sail over the surprised keeper and into the net in minute 47.

Among the other seven DC United shots were several powerful strikes by Quaranta who seems to have encountered a magic wall that has sent his blasts barely off target or just within the keeper’s range. It could easily have been much worse for the City Islanders.

According to Talley, the game provided an excellent chance to break in Pablo Hernandez and Boskovic in a competitive environment, “They’ve shown a lot of grit in their play, which is much needed in MLS. For a lot of foreigners there’s an adjustment period and I think that they’ve come and done a pretty good job in trying to match the intensity of the players in this league.

“Mixed with that, you throw in some of their savvy and I think they had a pretty good game tonight. It’s nice to play with technical players like Boskovic. Hernandez is a lot younger, but he has his qualities and he’s grown up in a soccer environment.”

Although the game has its primary value in securing a spot in the Semi-Finals against the Columbus Crew at RFK on 1 September, it provided a good transition to another preparatory event, the exhibition match against Portsmouth this Saturday.

Onalfo will make good use of that meeting, “Again, we want to utilize that opportunity to get more minutes for Boskovic, and even Hernandez. We want to work on how we play tactically, and it is an opportunity for all of the other guys to continue to make a statement on who should be playing and where.”

The team anxiously awaits the recuperation of Marc Burch, Rodney Wallace, Adam Christman, Juan Pena, and Chris Pontius, all of whom watched from the stands in good spirits. Their condition prompted Onalfo’s comment, “We need to see how we are physically, and then move forward and make sure that we approach the Portsmouth game in a professional manner.”

Pontius’ foot injury is “only” a bruise and he is walking normally, but will likely rest against Portsmouth. United goes into a series of weekly MLS contests in the month of August and that period should see all of the above returning to service.