After a ten day break since their game against Los Angeles FC, D.C. United begin their foray into the US Open Cup tomorrow, where they’re facing an unfamiliar opponent. North Carolina FC of the United Soccer League will make the trip to the Maryland SoccerPlex, as the clubs compete in the Fourth Round of the cup tournament. NCFC, originally founded in 2006 as the Carolina Railhawks, have never faced off against the Black-and-Red, who last year played amateur side Christos FC at this stage of the tournament.
It’s a nice change of pace, as the other teams in their section of the draw (the Richmond Kickers and Philadelphia Union) are among the most familiar opponents United could have. Those two are playing each other, and the winner of that game will face the winner between United and North Carolina in the Round of 16.
“It’s nice to not play Richmond, the affiliate thing is a bit strange,” United head coach Ben Olsen told B&RU on Monday. “Last year it was Christos, which was fun.”
“This is a different animal. This is a team that we’ve never faced,” added Olsen. “But with modern times, we can see plenty of their games, and do a real thorough job about who they are, and how to go about them. No different than any other game.”
North Carolina have two former United players currently on their roster. Austin da Luz joined United in mid-2011, and spent half the season playing for Olsen. Ty Shiaplane was a teammate of Olsen’s in 2009, though he never played in a MLS game, before being released by the club in 2010.
The team has had some struggles this year in USL, their first in the league, after playing in the North American Soccer League for the first 11 years of their existence. They currently sit in 12th place out of 16 teams in the USL’s Eastern Conference, having won just three of their first ten games. The Cary, NC based club got to this stage of the tournament by beating Lansdowne Bhoys FC 3-0 in the second round, and the Ocean City Nor’easters 4-1 in the third round. Both of those games took place at North Carolina’s home field, Sahlen’s Stadium at WakeMed Soccer Park.
“They are a good team, well balanced. They have some athleticism, they are organized,” Olsen said on Monday. “They will be a tough opponent to advance [past]. Our mindset is, this year, more than previous years, trying to win this whole thing. I don’t see any reason why we can’t.”
Olsen will have 21 players to call upon tomorrow, as injuries continue to be a hindrance to the team at this point. The Black-and-Red won’t have the services of Russell Canouse, Ulises Segura, Nick DeLeon, Taylor Kemp, or Chris Odoi-Atsem, all of whom remain injured.
United face a trip to Seattle this weekend, and then head to Canada next Wednesday to take on Toronto FC. But because the game against NCFC is on a Tuesday, the extra day off might mean that more starters than usual could see time against North Carolina. Had the game been on a Wednesday, the starting lineup might have been entirely made up of players who have a more reserved role with the team.
“It’s Tuesday to Saturday. Wednesday to Saturday changes things,” Olsen said of this week’s schedule. “You get that extra day, that allows you to make less changes. But [we’ll] also offer chances to guys who we need to see. We need to get them into live game action, because the second half of the season is coming quickly. As that comes, we are going to need everybody.”
United will also be forced to keep one international player off the roster for the game. US Open Cup rules limit teams to just five players that count as internationals in a game day squad of 18. United currently have seven such players that can be part of the squad - Yamil Asad, Bruno Miranda, Joseph Mora, Junior Moreno, David Ousted, Ulises Segura, and Zoltan Stieber. Segura’s injury makes it obvious that he will be left out, simplifying Olsen’s options.
Moreno recently made his return to the squad after an injury layoff, and came on as a substitute against LAFC for Chris Durkin. United were cautious with the Venezuelan, after Moreno was injured in his first game back from a previous injury, when United hosted Columbus Crew SC in April. But Moreno is now completely healthy, and Olsen won’t hesitate to use him in any role necessary.
“We were cautious with him even getting into that game,” Olsen said of Moreno. “Whether it was the minutes, or the time allowed to come back, now I think he’s ready to go. Whether it’s spot minutes or starting, I’ve got no worries with him now.”