(Tony Quinn/Getty Images)
D.C. UNITED vs. METROSTARS
October 1, 2003 - 7:30 p.m. EDT
Radio: English - WMET 1150 AM
Webcast: Live audio in English via www.dcunited.com
It would be wrong to speak for the majority of D.C. United fans, but I'd bet that last week they would have been willing to trade six points from the back-to-back MLS games against the Metrostars for defeat in this Wednesday's US Open Cup semi-final.
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As Sunday's game at RFK entered stoppage time with United 1-0 up against the scrappy, ten-man Metrostars, it was difficult to suppress a growing sense of satisfaction at the outcome of the two games. After the Earnie Stewart-inspired 2-0 victory in New Jersey, we'd take the points from the home game, thank you very much, and file its video under the section entitled Instantly Forgettable Ugly Soccer - Only Watch If Profoundly Bored or Disturbed.
At this point, the idea of playing Bob Bradley's hackers yet again in another three days seemed almost too depressing to contemplate. With injuries mounting, and three important fixtures against Eastern Conference opponents around the corner, you could be forgiven for wanting to throw the game. Let them have it, as consolation. Send along some AU reserves in DC jerseys.
Mike Magee's late slither of a goal changed all that. It meant that the Metrostars outscored DC by seven points to four in league meetings this season. It made the Open Cup suddenly seem important again.
The British novelist Kingsley Amis once said words to the effect that literary prizes were ignored or disdained by writers until they actually received one. Something similar has happened with domestic knockout cup competitions, and in the US it's no different to Europe. If you're knocked out, you shrug your shoulders and say the league is more important because it's a truer measure of a team's overall talent (and the prize money's bigger). But if you're still in the competition, and have got as far the semi-final, then you can guarantee you'll be interested in going as far as you can.
Columbus Crew are the Open Cup holders. I only say this because I had no idea of the fact until I was in Columbus in June and saw posters everywhere proclaiming its title. Yet although most fans outside of Columbus probably registered their triumph last fall, and maybe even watched the game, few of us remembered. But why should anyone in Columbus care about that? After all, a trophy's a trophy, no matter how small.
In relation to the length of its history, it's a long time since DC won a proper trophy. And as we're still in with a good chance of winning the Open Cup, let's talk it up a bit. At 89 years, it's the oldest soccer competition in the US, and one of the oldest in the world. It's much older than Super Bowl. Like any good cup, it pits lesser opposition against greater in the hope of an upset. In fact, it's baffling that the competition attracts such lousy crowds, given that it features the one unifying factor that US sports-lovers supposedly love - a guaranteed winner on the night. Roll on up, folks, no ties here!
The first three rounds of this year's competition have also provided useful playing time for DC's rookies. Goalie Doug Warren's assured performances these past few days can only have been aided by his Open Cup playing time, while central defender David Stokes seems to have developed into a better player even in the short time between the third round tie against Pittsburgh and last month's exhibition against El Salvador.
It was following the Pittsburgh game that coach Ray Hudson delivered a rant about how the match had illustrated the folly of fielding young, inexperienced players. Yet as his squad is shorn to its bare bones through injury and suspension in the approach to the season's climax, even he must now be pleased that the very players he may have to call on in an emergency have had the chance to play alongside first-choice players in competitive matches. What's more, they've helped bring D.C. United to within sniffing point of a bona fide Cup.
There's another strong motive for beating the Metrostars on Wednesday night (as if any more were needed). They have never won a title of any sort, and their Open Cup history is a sad list of defeats against teams like the Staten Island Vipers and the Charleston Battery. Their website has no 'Club History' section for the simple reason they've nothing to boast about, and their 2003 Media Guide bears on its front cover the strange legend 'A new tradition begins'. A new tradition? Besides not making sense, it clearly suggests that they wanted to dump the old one.
After Sunday's desperately poor spectacle, which more closely resembled an unruly kindergarten with players shoving each other and throwing tantrums while an overworked referee struggled to maintain order (very few of the cards issued were without justification), I'm happy that the Open Cup semi-final is not being televised. I'll be happier still if we can emerge unscathed on the injury front and, by whatever means, with a place in the Open Cup final against Chicago on October 15th. :: Plenderleith Archive
D.C. United: Doug Warren; Galin Ivanov, Ryan Nelsen, Mike Petke, Brandon Prideaux; Eliseo Quintanilla, Marco Etcheverry, Dema Kovalenko, Bobby Convey; Ronald Cerritos, Earnie Stewart.
D.C. United: OUT: M Ben Olsen (L MCL sprain), D/M Milton Reyes (L ACL surgery), M/F Devin Barclay (L sesmoid surgery), F Hristo Stoitchkov (L menisectomy), M/F Santino Quaranta (R MCL sprain).
MetroStars: OUT: F Jaime Moreno (herniated disc).
Ian Plenderleith is an independent, Maryland-based soccer writer. Visit him on the internet at www.ianplenderleith.net.