United wading into pivotal week

Team faces Crew twice, eyes Open Cup semifinal glory

Not so long ago, schedule congestion was a way of life for D.C. United.

From 2005-09, the club qualified for a bevy of international tournaments like CONCACAF Champions Cup, CONCACAF Champions League and even Copa Sudamericana in addition to their league and US Open Cup efforts back home.

There were periods when games seemed to outnumber practices and midweek matches, long-haul flights and tired legs presented a constant balancing act for United’s coaches and training staff.

For better or worse, those times were left behind this season – at least until now.

Starting with a transcontinental trip to California to visit Chivas USA on Sunday night, DC face a pivotal week with two MLS games sandwiching the most meaningful contest left on their calendar, Wednesday night’s Open Cup semifinal against the Columbus Crew.

“Fortunately we’ve got some guys that have experience of doing that,” said midfielder Clyde Simms, one veteran who logged plenty of hard miles in the busy international campaigns of the past. “We’ve talked about using all of our players, using our depth, and we’re definitely going to have to do that this coming week.”

The Crew will remain in Washington for a league match next Saturday, but for their hosts, that meeting pales in comparison to the Open Cup, which represents the only hardware still within United’s reach after a disappointing year.

The Black-and-Red will barely beat Columbus to town in the first place, returning from Los Angeles on Monday and then taking in just one training session before the semifinal.

“There is obviously some big travel involved in going across the country,” said DC technical director and interim assistant coach Chad Ashton. “We’re going to try and use as many bodies as possible over the three-game stretch and distribute minutes evenly, so that hopefully we’re putting gout the best side we can put out there for all three games.”

The stretch demands some difficult decisions from interim head coach Ben Olsen and his colleagues. United hope to field their best possible team on Wednesday without losing the momentum generated by last week’s skid-breaking win over Philadelphia or endangering the fitness of key performers.

“It is big,” said Simms of the Cup semifinal. “But we want to build off of Sunday’s performance. We feel like we have the team and Benny’s the right guy to manage the guys. We’re still going into Sunday as a big game also, and maybe some guys will get a chance to play that haven’t gotten much time, get some experience.”

Chivas, who lost to DC in a wild 3-2 match at RFK Stadium on May 29, are likely to see a number of reserves in the squad they welcome to the Home Depot Center. United flew out on Friday morning without defender Marc Burch and striker Pablo Hernandez, who will rest ahead of the USOC tie.

Their absence also suggests a more conservative tactical approach, though playmaker Branko Boskovic will surely see plenty of playing time on Sunday before he returns to Europe for more than a week of Montenegrin National Team duty.