US Open Cup Preview: Looking Ahead To D.C. United

USA TODAY Sports

DC United are in the doldrums and the Union are coming off the back of their best performance of the season. A visit to the capital now beckons for Philadelphia in the fourth round of the US Open Cup.

To describe D.C. United as pretty bad right now would be an understatement.

The team has not won in the league since early March. Lionard Pajoy, a former Philadelphia Union player, is the team's top scorer with two goals. Collectively, the team have only scored six times all year. Moreover, they had to rely on a penalty shoot-out to get past the Richmond Kickers (currently in the third tier of US football) and advance to the upcoming round of the US Open Cup. Given all of this, the Union should be licking their chops at the prospect of going to the RFK Stadium, where their hosts concede an average of two goals a game.

DC have played in a variety of formations lately so guessing how they'll line-up is tricky. Manager Ben Olsen clearly likes the delightfully named Perry Kitchen to sit deep and play as a midfield anchor. The versatility of Chris Pontius is also important to DC. In recent games, he has played as left midfield, as an attacking midfielder just behind the striker and as a conventional forward. Despite an injury to Pajoy, Carlos Ruiz, will not play upfront instead, due to a red card in United's last US Open Cup game and also because he came out of retirement internationally to play for Guatemala.

Though it obviously hasn't made too much of a difference so far this season, Philadelphia still need to be careful that Pontius, if deployed in an attacking position, isn't allowed to slip his marker as he drifts across the pitch. Dwayne De Rosario also has the potential to cause problems, but in recent games the 35-year-old's role in the team has been to come off the bench late in games and try to unlock tiring defenses. Olson clearly isn't afraid to tinker with his formations so will also be content to set his team up in any number of ways meaning the Union won't be 100% sure of how to prepare for this fixture.

That said, this is still a game the Union should win. DC's defense has looked terrible of late and all to often seem unsure of how to deal with long balls over the top. Strikers that play off the shoulder of the last defender also seem to give them fits whilst the backline itself drifts into the middle far too often and invites teams to take advantage of the additional space.

It is unclear how exactly both teams are going to stack their line-ups and whether one or both will field a mix of first-team players and reserves. A cup run would be good for both sides but should Philadelphia field their strongest starting XI, the Union should back themselves to beat a struggling DC team.

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