Tonight, for just about everyone in American soccer, D.C. United is the villain. The US Open Cup usually has a lower-division Cinderella team, but it’s exceedingly rare that we’re talking about a true amateur team like Christos FC facing an MLS side. Even NPSL or PDL teams at least have training sessions; Christos, famously, can’t arrange them due to day job commitments.
Funnily enough, it has taken a pairing against an amateur team to push the Soccerplex to the brink of a sell out. CSN and NBC 4 are not running stories on this game if it’s D.C. vs. Philly, for example. United has never had even 5000 fans turn out for an Open Cup game against an MLS side at the small venue up 270, but people want to see David take on Goliath. They want to see if Christos can follow in the footsteps of Cal FC, who took down the Portland Timbers in 2012. They want to see another Dallas Roma FC, who took Chivas USA to penalties before dumping the late MLS side out of the tournament in 2006.
All of the pressure in this one is on the Black-and-Red. Anything less than a smooth, uneventful win will be seen as a major surprise. A trip to extra time? Unthinkable. Defeat? Impossible. But that’s what people said about Cal FC, and Dallas Roma, and that’s what they told Christos ahead of their second round match with the Richmond Kickers. Anything less than a top-level, serious, fully committed performance from United opens the door to possibly the biggest upset in a tournament that is over a century old.
Key player: Sebastien Le Toux
The all-time leading scorer in the US Open Cup, Le Toux and the rest of United’s attack need to be sharp. Christos have gotten to this point by staying organized, playing out of a very low block, and simply not giving opponents enough angles to go to goal. Le Toux will need to stretch them wide to open up space for others, and he’ll also need to round his man and get into the box to force Christos to collapse into the area.
Creating chaos and keeping the tempo high will be critical to opening up a packed defense, and Le Toux needs to lead the way.
Location: Maryland Soccerplex (Boyds, MD)
Kickoff time: 7:30pm Eastern
Projected D.C. United starting 11: (4141) - Travis Worra; Chris Odoi-Atsem, Jalen Robinson, Bobby Boswell/Kofi Opare, Chris Korb; Chris Durkin; Sebastien Le Toux, Marcelo Sarvas, Julian Buescher, Lamar Neagle; Alhaji Kamara
Bench: Bill Hamid, Steve Birnbaum, Jared Jeffrey, Ian Harkes/Luciano Acosta, Patrick Nyarko, Lloyd Sam, Jose Ortiz
With Toronto FC looming on the weekend and this being the first of six games in 21 days, we’re going to see a heavily rotated line-up. Kamara was held out of Richmond’s loss to Christos so he could be available for United in the Open Cup, while Durkin (who was away on US youth duty at the time of that game) was rested this weekend.
We’ll see a sign of things going forward, as Ben Olsen will have to choose a center back partner for Steve Birnbaum. The non-starter today is not likely to start on the weekend. It seems likely that Olsen will choose between only one of Harkes or Acosta, with preserving Lucho’s ankle for league play the concern.
Projected Christos FC starting 11: (4411) - Phil Saunders; Collin Fisher, Mamadou Kansaye, Josh Taylor, Chris Wilson; Levi Houapeu, Cody Albrecht, Michael Scott, Juan Perrerira; Elton Joe; Pete Caringi
There are a lot of guesses here, obviously. There are also numerous names local college soccer nerds will recognize, including Caringi (who was once drafted by the Montreal Impact) and winger Houapeu (drafted by the Philadelphia Union and spent a season with the Rochester Rhinos). In the back, Saunders has pro experience in the Icelandic league, while Kansaye spent a season with the Charlotte Independence.
Perhaps most notably, Cody Albrecht - a longtime United Academy player - will be facing the club that developed him (Paul Tenorio covered the subject quite well over at FourFourTwo USA). There’s also the list of players Jalen Robinson, a Catonsville native, grew up with or trained with.
Available TV: None
Available streaming: DCUnited.com
What do we have to say about it?: Yesterday we took a stab at the Black-and-Red lineup, while we add to that today depending on my schedule.
What are you drinking?: The forecast is calling for possible record highs and notable humidity. Drink water for your own good, folks. I might also get an iced coffee on my way in, but mostly I’m just trying not to die of dehydration.
This is the place for all your pre-game, in-game, and post-game discussion. Vamos ruining the big story!