Tonight, DC United faces the Harrisburg City Islanders of the USL 2nd division at the Maryland Soccer Complex in
United comes into this quarterfinal having squeaked by the PDL’s Ocean City Barons 2-0 in the last round. True to their home state’s character, the Barons gave us a scare.
How could it have been a squeaker at 2-0 you ask? United won, true, but barely thanks to a dubious penalty and some scrappy play.
After the miserably boring and badly played first half, the weather reflected the crowd’s mood as rain and a 10 degree temperature drop moved through at halftime. Despite my professorial projections of continued rain, my esteemed colleague, writer B. Fondak, predicted it would clear up after halftime. It did and so did United’s play.
Ben Olsen, one of three 1st team players to start the first half, along with Marc Burch and Rodney Wallace, came out at half for Chris Pontius and things started to look up. Pontius, who would end the game with at least 5 good chances on goal, immediately had an impact finding space at the top-center of the Barons' defense. Barons’ coach Neil Holloway must not have liked that substitution very much because he started to Hulk out about 10 minutes later and was ejected. In fact, he only left after a cop on the sideline "encouraged" him to leave!
The first United goal came in the 74th minute when Barons' keeper Ogunbiyi dove out to parry a long through ball. Ogunbiyi hit the ball and then took out the charging Ange N’Silu who tumbled head over heels. Note the order: (1) keeper hits ball (2) keeper hits player. Nonetheless, referee Jeff Gontarek pointed to the spot and Christian Gomez, subbed in for the injured John DiRaimondo in the 68th minute, took him up on his offer and slotted the ball in the Barons' net.
Wallace came out for Clyde Simms (does he have a PS3 yet or what?) in the next minute as Sohen looked to lock things down which…sort of happened. A former DC United official, in the stands that day, commented “this is where professional conditioning comes in” and it did. However, the “we’re-a-PDL-team-playing-an-MSL-team-and-have-nothing-to-lose”feeling also came in as the Barons bared down on the United goal flooding the box with players from all parts of the pitch abandoning their 1st half defense strategy. It almost worked, too, when the ball got by a diving Kocic only to be cleared off the line by Devon McTavish.
The men in black finally clinched the win in extra time when Gomito cracked a long direct kick on goal that the losers’ goalie Ogunbiyi deflected to the feet of N'Silu who quieted the obnoxious Jersey crowd for good and setting up tonight’s match-up.
The Harrisburg Islanders are coming off a quality 2-1 victory over the New England Revolution in the last round. Like United, the Revolution didn’t start many 1st teamers but lost the gamble. The Islanders got redemption after losing to the Revolution in the quarters of the 2007 Gold Cup. It should be noted that the Revolution also played a man down because of injuries and was actually down three men at one point in the second half. In other words, the Revolution were not at 100% or even 75%.
So, the Islanders will be a cakewalk, right? Ah, sweet hubris. That enticing and emboldening surge of confidence and surety that comes from victory and often precedes failure. We underestimate this Pennsylvanian team at our own peril. The last time DC lost in Open Cup play was in 2007 to, yep, the Harrisburg City Islanders.
Additionally, the Islanders are a mix of local and international talent that has won 10 of their last 14 games who, despite the cliché, have nothing to lose. Throw in Nicki Patterson, who leads his league in fouls with 28, and you have an intriguing game tonight that will see a United without Emilio and Moreno (injuries), Quaranta and Jakovic (international duty) and with a long list of players who went 90 minutes against Columbus Saturday. Expect to see Kocic start in goal again (adios, Mr. Crayton!) with N’Silu up top. Lastly, if Benny plays, he will be playing his hometown team. That’s right, Olsen was born in
Prediction: United 2-1.