When it comes to the fourth round of the US Open Cup, D.C. United is in an unenviable position. Defeat the Fort Lauderdale Strikers, and they get no real credit. After all, the Strikers are made up of players United cut loose, aging Brazilian veterans, and two or three young players who haven't fought their way into MLS yet. Lose, however, and it's an embarrassment. United's fanbase is already pretty quick to anger (example: I've seen multiple 2013 comparisons throughout the year despite the Black-and-Red sitting in a playoff spot), so a loss tonight would probably go over like a lead balloon.
That said, the Open Cup is potentially very important. It's the easiest trophy to win for any MLS club, and by far the easiest way to get into the CONCACAF Champions League (which also means it's the easiest way to get some extra allocation money). United has a good history in this competition, and they should be making a concerted effort to improve on last year's frustrating showing.
D.C. United Projected 11: United's lineup tonight has been the subject of a lot of discussion among our staff, and I have to confess that I'm not really certain about much beyond what United has publicly stated will happen. Even judging off of past Open Cup lineups is difficult, because United is coming off of a two-week break this time (whereas past years saw this game come just 3-4 days after the last one).
Don't be surprised if the following is wrong, in other words. We know Travis Worra will be in goal, and I think we'll see a back four of Jalen Robinson, Kofi Opare, Bobby Boswell, and Luke Mishu. Chris Durkin will make his DCU debut alongside Jared Jeffrey in central midfield, with Julian Buescher playing further ahead of them as a #10. Miguel Aguilar and Rob Vincent will cover the flanks, while Alhaji Kamara will start up front. I really hope this is a 4231, and not a 442 with Buescher having to try to adjust to being something he isn't.
Off the bench, it'll all depend on how the game goes. One of Fabian Espindola or Lamar Neagle will have to play up front regardless, as Ben Olsen has said that Kamara can only play about an hour at this point. Both of them - plus Luciano Acosta - will be brought on if the Black-and-Red need to pull this one out of the fire. If it's just about sealing the deal, look for Nick DeLeon to play maybe 20 minutes on the wing, and maybe someone like Taylor Kemp to get a few minutes as well.
Referee: No idea. PRO Referees has not updated their US Open Cup assignments page since last year.
What are you drinking?: If traffic allows for it, I'll be hitting the 7-11 down the road from the Soccerplex to grab a Coke Slurpee. Too much of a drive to and from to start knocking back beers, unfortunately.
Prediction: I was not very impressed by the Strikers on Sunday, but I anticipate that they'll be far more up for this game (particularly their ex-DC players). Nonetheless, United should be able to handle this game. Look for the Black-and-Red to press high early and force the Strikers into a tempo they don't like to play. From there, United should take the lead via Kamara after a cross from Aguilar causes problems. Fort Lauderdale will push back via Ramon Nuñez, but DC should be able to hold them mostly to long shots. Espindola comes in and scores shortly thereafter, and United sees the game out with relative ease. 2-0 DCU.
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