By PABLO MAURER
BOYDS, MD – For some MLS clubs, the USOC is treated as a mid-season distraction. Other teams treat it as a means to test their depth, to get bench players minutes in meaningful matches. For a club like United – mired in the depths of their worst season in club history – the Open Cup represents a second chance, a chance to taste glory in the middle of an MLS season that’s already nearly slipped away from them.
Given the the added importance United has heaped onto the Open Cup this year, it wasn’t much of a surprise when the starting XI that DCU head coach Ben Olsen rolled out for yesterday’s match with Philadelphia was a near full-strength one. And near the top of United’s 4-4-2 was their talismanic captain, Dwayne De Rosario, who would prove to be the difference maker.
DeRo – who’s struggled to find his form this year – was lethal on Wednesday night, netting a hattrick en route to a 3-1 United win. The first of his goals came in the 24th minute, as the Canadian international ran on to a loose ball, putting it past Philly keeper Zack MacMath from some 19 yards out. He’d find pay dirt again midway through the second stanza, sending a low shot around an out of position MacMath.
De Rosario would round out the trio with a wily strike – reading a misplayed pass between MacMath and Jeff Parke and finding the back of the net from some 40 yards out. He’d comment after the match that he immediately identified the ball between the two Union players as having “too much mustard”; he knew immediately to run to space behind Parke, anticipating the errant pass. His finish was clinical and taken without hesitation. Though the veteran’s pace may be a step off this year, his mind for the game seems to be as sharp as ever.
It’s been a rough year for De Rosario, who’s complained not only about his lack of playing time, but also the sloppy play of his teammates as well, issues that have put a strain on his relationship with Olsen.
“I’m passionate, there’s blood in my veins – you saw that tonight,” DeRo commented after the match. “I just want the best, and I don’t settle for anything less. And sometimes, you’re going to bump heads when things aren’t going your way. I have a strong personality. Like I said, I’m passionate, and he [Olsen] has a strong personality too, so we’re going to bump heads. But at the end of the day, my job is to go out there and do the best job I can to help this team, and thankfully I was able to do that tonight.”
As for Olsen, he only had praise for his captain. “I thought Dwayne was an absolute stud. The guy’s a winner. He’s been through a lot, I’ve been through a lot, and he responded tonight the way you expect a guy like Dwayne to respond. So that’s a positive sign.”
Philadelphia, for their part, also played a near full-strength XI. Jack McInerney managed to pull one back for the Union late in the second half, as defender Don Anding picked him out 18 yards from goal. McInerney beat D.C. goalkeeper Joe Willis low to pull Philly within one, but it proved to be too little, too late.
Despite De Rosario’s slow start, Union head coach John Hackworth hardly seemed surprised at the 2011 MLS MVP’s breakout performance: “I’ve known DeRo for a long time, and he’s a fantastic player,” Hackworth told the media assembled at the SoccerPlex. “There’s a reason he was MVP of this league and he has that ability. We knew that they had a lot of dangerous players. This is a team that was one of the best in the league last year so despite their start they have a lot of weapons.”
United’s victory wasn’t without a price. Midfielder Chris Pontius was subbed off at halftime after taking a blow to the head – Olsen said he’d be evaluated for a possible concussion. Defenders James Riley and Ethan White both left the game due to injury in the second half, possibly thinning out an already threadbare back line.
D.C. United will next face New England in Open Cup play. The encounter, scheduled for June 26th, will also take place at the Maryland SoccerPlex.