D.C. United has not won since March 9. Reduced to a substitute’s role in Saturday’s 2-0 loss to Portland, team captain Dwayne De Rosario is not happy. At the risk of understatement, United is a need of a little good news.
United is hoping to find something to cheer about as it begins its journey in the U.S. Open Cup Tuesday with a third round match against its USL Pro affiliate Richmond Kickers. While the clubs are linked with player development, there is a dramatic difference between the two sides in their respective league tables.
The Kickers have used five United players this season as they have navigated to a 5-0-3 record. Goalkeeper Andrew Dykstra, who is on United’s books, made nine saves in their 2-0 weekend win over the Harrisburg City. Another United player, Michael Seaton, helped seal the win with a second half goal.
Seaton just turned 17 years old on May 1 and is a United academy product who moved to this country from Jamaica when he was 7 and went on to play for the Freestate Soccer Alliance in Maryland. Seaton, who has played for Jamiaca at the youth levels and Dykstra will be part of the Kickers’ squad against United.
Unlike the Kickers, United has struggled to find its way this season and has been forced to bring back three players that were loaned to the Kickers. Forward Casey Townsend, who has started twice for United, scored 2 goals in three games with the Kickers. Defender Taylor Kemp played three games for the Kickers, but has one start with United and was on the bench for Saturday’s game. Conor Shanosky has yet to play for United after scoring 1 goal in six games for the Kickers.
Townsend, Kemp and Shanosky will be with United for the game against the Kickers, but the bigger concern is how the rest of the team connects. Defensive lapses allowed the Timbers to secure victory on Saturday against United. Carlos Ruiz made his first start of the season and there was more bite in United’s attack, but no goals.
Ruiz’s scoring ability with 88 career MLS goals is well documented, but against the Timbers he was critical winning the possession battle. Using his strength Ruiz was able to play with his back to the goal and hold the ball for distribution and scoring opportunities. Other times Ruiz just used a deft touch or flick to unlock the Timbers’ defense and give some real flow to United’s offense.
On Saturday Ruiz played 70 minutes. He linked well with Chris Pontius who also started as forward. Nick De Leon began in central midfield role, but was switched to the flank at half with starter Marcos Sanchez still struggling to make his impact with United. De Rosario played the final 35 minutes.
De Rosario believes he and Ruiz can co-exist on the field at the same time. They played only five minutes together on Saturday. United’s five best attacking players are Ruiz, Pontius, De Leon, De Rosario, and newcomer Kyle Porter. With Pontius and De Leon regaining full health from injuries, all five on the field at the same time might provide the spark.
Either way the Open Cup offers hope and perhaps a fresh start. The Black and Red has twice won the competition in n 1996 and then again in 2008 when United suffered through a disappointing league season.
It is not an easy competition. United needed an overtime goal from Marcelo Saragossa to beat the Kickers 2-1 in the third round last year. The Kickers are better side this year. Beyond the players Richmond borrowed from United, the team is led by former United forward Joseph Ngwenya with 6 goals and 1 assist.
On paper this game has the feel of a potential upset. The Kickers have yet to taste defeat this season and should be full of belief that they can be a giant-killer on Tuesday. United has been full of doubt and lacking results, but should be desperate for the Open Cup to provide a much-needed truning point to the season.
“There’s always hope, that’s the beauty of this game,” De Rosario added.