United welcome Open Cup opportunity
WASHINGTON -- Not that many months ago, D.C. United might have greeted the arrival of a midweek, non-league commitment like Wednesday night's U.S. Open Cup play-in match with dismay, or at the very least, tired resignation regarding another draining responsibility.Nowadays, however, it's a welcome occasion for players further down the depth charts to grab playing time, something which has become a prized commodity around RFK Stadium as the squad continues to improve. Head coach Tom Soehn is sure to make several alterations to his usual starting XI against the New York Red Bulls on Wednesday -- the most crucial of which involves Ben Olsen's replacement -- but little will change in terms of expectations or playing style.Beyond noting the unique regulations of U.S. Open Cup play, Soehn maintained his customary caginess about personnel decisions this week. But most of the squad members who took part in Saturday's 2-2 road draw with Chivas USA went through an abbreviated workout on Monday and several veterans are due for rest ahead of Saturday's league visit by Real Salt Lake, the only team to beat United this year."We're going to utilize our guys as best we can to make sure we keep everybody part of it," said Soehn on Monday. "We're going to make sure that we've got a balanced lineup and try to use what we can. Obviously we've got one more sub than normal. We can only dress five foreigners, that's going to factor in. But we'll manage it, and we're going in to win."By and large the injury bug has been far more kind to D.C. than a year ago, although on Tuesday the capital club was rocked by news of an MRI confirming that pivotal midfielder Olsen will miss up to a month of action due to a hamstring injury.Soehn, for his part, tried to downplay the loss."Especially learning from last year, you really don't want to count on any one piece too much. You don't want to overemphasize it, because at any point you could be without that," he said. "So it's the next guy's opportunity to step in, offer qualities that maybe Ben doesn't have, and offer qualities to the team that make us better."While the coaching staff might have already turned its attention to the hunt for Olsen's replacement in central midfield, Andrew Jacobson, the most likely candidate, made clear that the veteran's absence will be deeply felt on multiple levels."It'd be a disappointing thing. He's an amazing player," said Jacobson. "I've never seen anybody that can play at such a high level, injured. It's unbelievable -- it's like he limps onto the field, then he's the best player on the field."If I'm called upon, I'll do my best with my ability. ... But if Ben's healthy for every game, he's got to play. He's so important for the team."Beyond his senior leadership, Olsen has proved to be Soehn's most useful adhesive in the center of the park, adeptly linking United's defense with its potent attack. Jacobson has added useful size and physicality to United's lineup in his 351 minutes of league action thus far, but Soehn says the University of California product will need to broaden his range and ambition if he is to keep the Black-and-Red flying at their present heights."We've talked a lot about keeping our shape with him, but one of the qualities that drew us to him to begin with are his offensive qualities, and he hasn't displayed that as of late," said the D.C. boss. "So I've told him to defend more, and now he's got to get back to the parts of the game that he's comfortable with, the offensive part."United are unsure what sort of squad the Red Bulls will send south to RFK on Wednesday. But memories of the teams' last meeting, a 3-2 D.C. victory keyed by two last-gasp goals at Giants Stadium on April 26, linger on both sides and this week's hosts are keen to deliver a far better defensive display this time around."They've going to bring a lot of intensity. When we left their place stealing a win, coming from behind, definitely it leaves a sour taste in their mouths," said United right back Bryan Namoff. "They have very attacking-minded players and they caused us a lot of trouble at their place. There are a lot of those players, especially players like [striker Juan Pablo] Angel, that they can create chances out of nothing."