United eager to host US Open Cup
WASHINGTON -- It would seem that an expansion team barely midway through its first year of MLS existence might have a hard time striking up a rivalry with a 14-year-old club situated more than 2,000 miles away.But put a 96-year-old tournament up for grabs, add a hotly-contested venue bidding process for the cup final, stir in a few sharp, defiant remarks from both sides -- and suddenly, D.C. United and Seattle Sounders FC find themselves contending one of the most intriguing U.S. Open Cup finals in recent memory.With large, lively crowds packing Qwest Field to cheer on Sigi Schmid's frenetic, attack-minded squad, Seattle's inaugural season in Major League Soccer has been a startling success on several levels and the Sounders FC front office was eager to play host to the Open Cup final in those home environs when the opportunity presented itself.But Sounders FC lost out to an aggressive bid from United, the tourney's defending champions, sparking a bout of verbal sparring between Seattle general manager Adrian Hanauer and D.C. president Kevin Payne in the leadup to Wednesday night's title bout at RFK Stadium. Hanauer admitted to being "frustrated and somewhat skeptical" about the bidding process, prompting a full-blooded riposte from Payne, who condemned Hanauer's "outrageous implication" regarding the U.S. Soccer Federation's choice and soon launched a promotional campaign for the final called "We Win Trophies," underscoring the capital club's rich history of excellence.United were already keen to keep possession of the Dewar Trophy, which they secured with a 2-1 victory against the USL's Charleston Battery at RFK a year ago, but the prematch sniping has only fueled the fire for some members of the squad."They can complain all they want. It doesn't really bother me," said D.C. goalkeeper Josh Wicks, who once played for the Portland Timbers, Seattle's most bitter rival during their USL days."They have a good fan base in Seattle and it's their first year in the league -- I'm not taking anything away from them but at the same time, D.C. is defending champions of the cup so in my book, let them come earn [the right] to hold it up there next year."Off-field drama aside, both teams will be motivated by the ever-present lust for hardware and a late-summer confidence boost could also prove useful as the MLS regular season ticks down to the wire. United snapped an extended winless streak with last Saturday's league victory in Chicago and with his team still stuck on the outside of the playoff picture, veteran Ben Olsen believes that a victory on Wednesday would offer priceless momentum for the demanding days ahead."We're not caught up in that stuff. That's not our world," said Olsen in regards to the executives' wrangle. "Our world is to go out and win a trophy. And I think it's an important step for us, to continue to get better and put a series of wins together, which has been an issue of ours this summer."D.C. and Seattle battled to a 3-3 draw in their first-ever meeting on June 17, a topsy-turvy match at Qwest Field that featured end-to-end play and plenty of defensive breakdowns on both sides. Having racked up hard-won clean sheets in their last two league matches, the Black-and-Red are eager to keep Wednesday's clash from being anywhere near as open as that occasion in Seattle -- no simple task given the movement and trickery that defines Fredy Montero, Freddie Ljungberg and the rest of the Sounders FC attack."There's not just one area where they can beat you -- they can beat you from all angles with their forwards, and they've got a strong midfield. You see goals coming in from everywhere," said United right back Bryan Namoff. "So we have to just make sure that our concentration was the same as it was in this previous match against Chicago. We know what to expect."After using a 3-5-2 shape for most of the campaign, D.C. coach Tom Soehn has been experimenting with a 4-4-2 approach in recent weeks and a back four of Namoff, Julius James, Dejan Jakovic and Marc Burch performed well against the Fire. But James is cup-tied due to his participation in previous rounds with the Houston Dynamo, so United might turn to a five-man midfield to seize the initiative on their home turf.Given the stakes and setting, however, tactics are apt to take a back seat to effort and raw intensity."I expect it to be a dogfight," said Wicks.