Barring extra time or penalty kicks D.C. United is hoping it is 90 minutes away from its third U.S. Open Cup title. That’s where the club’s focus is, but first there is a league schedule to follow and that means a game on the road Saturday against Toronto FC.
“I think the Cup run has been a blessing,” said United midfielder Dwayne De Rosario. “That (Cup run) has kept the team even stronger together because we have something to play for beyond our individual pride. It is about playing for the organization and most importantly the fans.”
As they have in years past busloads of United supporters will make the trip to Toronto, but it will be different. United regulars like De Rosario are expected to watch and not play. With United out of playoff contention and the Open Cup final on Tuesday in Salt Lake City, the Black and Red is expected to dramatically alter its starting eleven.
“We have a young group of guys that are hoping to get their chance,” said head coach Ben Olsen. “I like that it is on the road. We will be facing a Toronto team that wants badly to win for its fans. It will be a hostile environment. I have said the rest of this season is an audition and the opportunity will be there Saturday.”
Saturday’s game likely will mean another opportunity for midfielder Collin Martin to show why in rapid succession his journey has gone from D.C. United Academy to Wake Forest and then this summer a contract with the first team. The 18-year old from Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School impressed in his first minutes August 3rd against Montreal and has been solid in four games including two starts.
Conor Shanosky is another member of United’s Academy system that should feature in Saturday’s plans. A defensive midfielder who can play at the back, Shanosky first signed with United in 2010 when the Sterling, Virginia native decided to go pro and leave a scholarship at George Mason University.
“This has really been a breakthrough year for Conor in so many ways,” said general manager Dave Kasper. “He is someone who has really benefitted from our relationship with the Richmond Kickers and with confidence his growth has been significant.”
Along with four appearances for United this season, Shanosky scored two goals in 14 matches as the Kickers made it all the way to the USL Pro semifinals. Fellow Academy grad Michael Seaton also appeared in 14 games for the Kickers and the 16-year old striker striker from Capitol Heights, Md. netted four goals. Seaton is also an option for Saturday.
While United in general is going through a youth movement, it also has veterans to turn to as it tries to navigate the busy four days bookended by a league match and a Cup final. Legendary MLS goal scorer, 88 career goals, is poised for his first action since a June 20 match against Chicago.
Regardless of United’s lineup or formation, the Black and Red will be facing a Toronto side desperate for a home success. Toronto FC has not won at home since a 1-0 win over New England on August 4th. Since then the club parted ways with team president Kevin Payne who just left United last winter to help put Toronto on a winning path.
From its inception in 2007 Toronto has had a passionate and knowledgeable fan base, but the club has gone through a parade of coaches and players in an effort to get it right. This will be the team’s seventh season and another one without the playoffs. Former United defender Ryan Nelsen is finishing his first year as head coach and his job appears to be safe going forward.
While Nelsen appears safe, in the short term it’s hard to figure out where the answers and goals will come from. In its last eight matches Toronto FC gas managed only five goals and there has not been a multiple goal-scorer. In that stretch of games former United player Bobby Convey scored for Toronto in a 1-1 draw at R.F.K. Stadium.
Indeed on paper Toronto might have the advantage on Saturday, but the Reds should feel anything but secure. In 2010 in the midst of D.C. United’s worst ever season defender Julius James scored for the Black and Red to send Toronto to a1-0 defeat. It prompted TFC supporters to start singing the Twisted Sister song “We’re not going to take it anymore”
United is not having a good season in 2013 and might not have its strongest lineup on Saturday, but soccer can produce the unexpected. Maybe the Black and Red will force Toronto’s fans to reprise their Twisted Sister routine.