D.C. United take on the Rochester Rhinos tonight in the US Open Cup. To preview the game, we talked to Brendan Doherty of The Bent Musket, who covers the Rhinos and their New England Revolution loanees.
Questions for The Bent Musket
B&RU: How has the New England Revolution-Rochester Rhinos affiliation worked out so far this year?
TBM: This year the affiliation is much more fruitful for the Rhinos. Not to disrespect the guys who were on loan last year (nothing worked out for the team in 2013) but only Bilal Duckett was a first choice starter. All 3 guys on long-term loan have had games, midfielder Alec Sundly is a first choice player, Luis Soffner would get a lot more starts without John McCarthy in front of him in the pecking order at the moment, and Jossimar Sanchez has performed well in previous cup matches. Short-term loanee Donnie Smith has two starts in four appearances with a hockey assist in that time.
B&RU: Are the Revs going to let any of their players stay with the Rhinos for the Open Cup?
TBM: Jossimar Sanchez is already cup-tied to the Rhinos after playing against both Western Mass Pioneers and Reading United AC as is Luis Soffner after playing against WMP. Alec Sundly could feature for Rochester or could be withheld per a request by the Revolution but with the MLS schedule on break right now, there are regular players available in defensive central midfield for the Revs.
I can tell you that there won't be any surprise short-term loans down to Rochester just for this match. Only long-term loans from another domestic club side can participate in the U.S. Open Cup so Donnie Smith can not be available for the Rhinos.
B&RU: Being the last non-MLS team to win the US Open Cup, does it have a special place for Rhinos fans?
TBM: That's definitely the case, the U.S. Open Cup means a lot for Rochester soccer. First and foremost the competition sets the stage for Rochester nostalgia back to all those successful campaigns during that period, regularly beating MLS sides and winning 3 A-League titles. In addition to that, though, the cup title means that the Rochester Rhinos is one of the first talking points when people are discussing the cup. Instead of just being another potential MLS expansion side that didn't make the cut (and that is now a rather long list), Rochester is the only non-MLS team to win the competition during the MLS-era.
It's definitely a source of pride for Rochester soccer and something that keeps Rochester relevant at least to the (nerdy) American soccer community.
B&RU: Lineup and prediction?
It's going to be a tough game but there might be a few surprises, especially towards the end of the game.
Rochester Rhinos 2 -1 D.C. United
Question for Black and Red United
TBM: Last year D.C., like the Rhinos, had an awful league campaign. With United sitting atop the standings this season, does the club prioritize the cup lower?
B&RU: D.C. United prioritizes the US Open Cup the same way every year, at least under Ben Olsen. Reserve players will be most of the lineup against non-MLS clubs, but then they will field the first-team players against MLS clubs; out of all of the MLS teams, they are definitely in the top tier of valuing this competition. I think that the team realizes that the Open Cup win last year was the only saving grace for the team, and it got them more allocation money and into the Concacaf Champions League.
TBM: As holders of the U.S. Open Cup title, have D.C. fans added any extra pressure to perform in this year's competition?
B&RU: There is always more pressure as the defending champion, and then there is the added pressure that comes from United actually being good this year. And, as we saw with the Seattle Sounders a couple years ago, the loss of the allocation money that comes from winning the Cup is painful as well. And while, unlike last year, the main focus will still be the MLS Cup playoffs, they will not reach a Mike Petke-level of derision towards the tournament should they lose.
TBM: How strong will the lineup be on Tuesday night? Will Eddie Johnson be disheartened by not making the World Cup roster? How many players are cup-tied with Richmond from the earlier rounds of the cup?
B&RU: As I said above, it will likely be a mostly reserve lineup, with three possible first team starters in the match. Davy Arnaud is already suspended for the next league match because of yellow card accumulation, and Fabian Espindola is likely to receive a call from the MLS disciplinary committee. Both could start in this game to keep them fresh. Bobby Boswell is the third first team starter who might play, due to a current lack of depth in the center back corps: Jeff Parke, Nana Attakora, and Conor Shanosky are all injured. Joe Willis and Christiano Francois are the only two players cup-tied to Richmond, so United should have the full contingent of reserve players to chose from. As for Eddie Johnson, I wouldn't expect to see him play; I don't think he's necessarily disheartened by being left off of the World Cup team, but it is his continued poor player that contributed to that absence. He still hasn't found his form.
TBM: Lineup and prediction?
I'll take a 2-0 victory for D.C. United.