DC's busy month starts with Open Cup defense
WASHINGTON -- Over the next month, D.C. United will jet across multiple time zones for two demanding Western Conference road matches, open international competition with a tricky CONCACAF tie, visit the daunting confines of BMO Field for a crucial Eastern clash and welcome one of the world's most illustrious clubs in a high-profile friendly.But first, there's the considerable task of continuing their U.S. Open Cup title defense in a semifinal matchup with the USL-1's Rochester Rhinos at the Maryland SoccerPlex on Tuesday night."It's semifinals, it's a championship we want to defend, and it's not a game that we're taking lightly by any means," said D.C. defender Bryan Namoff following United's 3-1 league win against Colorado on Saturday.The cozy atmosphere at the SoccerPlex is a long way -- both literally and figuratively -- from FedEx Field, the hulking NFL stadium where United will meet Real Madrid in front of a massive crowd in just less than three weeks' time. But the Boyds, Md. facility has been a useful home for the Black-and-Red in Open Cup play, with D.C. enjoying a 4-0 record in matches at the SoccerPlex over the past 13 months.United and the Rhinos share a rich Open Cup history dating back to 1996, the inaugural year of Major League Soccer, when D.C. defeated Rochester 3-0 in the final at RFK Stadium. That kicked off a sustained stretch of MLS dominance in the tournament and the Rhinos remain the only team to have disrupted the top-tier league's string of Open Cup titles, having snared the Dewar Trophy in a Cinderella championship run 10 years ago.D.C. began last year's cup-winning run with a 2-0 victory against Rochester at the SoccerPlex on July 1. But the USL-1 side certainly put up creditable resistance and this time around they will take heart from the relative difficulty United encountered in defeating lower-level competition in the tourney's two previous rounds. D.C. labored to put away the PDL's Ocean City Barons and the Harrisburg City Islanders of USL-1 as the four-time MLS Cup champs brought out the best in their opponents."They had nothing to lose," said D.C. midfielder Andrew Jacobson after his team's narrow 2-1 win over Harrisburg. "It's difficult to play a team with nothing to lose."Even with their deeper pool of talent, the Rhinos will similarly relish the underdog role. With a cup final berth on the line -- a match that United already know they'll host, should they beat Rochester -- coach Tom Soehn might take fewer risks with his lineup by calling on more established veterans than in the earlier stages of the tournament. Striker Jaime Moreno played a pivotal part in D.C.'s second-half comeback against Colorado and he expects to participate in Tuesday's showdown as he works his way back to full fitness following a hamstring injury."Oh, for sure. I'm expecting to play," said Moreno on Saturday. "I don't know if I'll be starting but I definitely think I'm going to have some minutes."Rochester have allowed just 15 goals in 17 league matches this season, but the back line could be in for a long and difficult evening if the Bolivian can dispay more of the telepathic understanding with playmaker Christian Gomez that created D.C.'s first and third goals and sent the Rapids home empty-handed over the weekend."We know each other really well," Gómez said afterwards. "We come to practice together. On the road we are roommates together. When he looks one way, I know what he is doing and he knows that I interpret it the same way."United have bolstered their roster with a host of new talent this season, but Saturday's result displayed the unique ways in which the South American duo inspire their team's attack."I definitely think we're reliant on them," said Namoff. "With Jaime, he can hold the ball so well. I haven't seen too many players in the league who have the type of composure he does on the ball."He adds so much value to this team. It's something where when he comes in, I think a lot of the other team takes notice. Then that's when the team starts to dwell on Jaime and then we can still get players like Christian Gomez involved, and other players. I think they become more dangerous because there's kind of a shift in defensive outlook when Jaime's in."