It would be better not to make too much of D.C. United losing 2-1 in overtime to the Philadelphia Union in the fourth round of the U.S. Open Cup. But since both teams – one that has been playing well, the other that has been struggling – fielded full-strength sides, the game had all the trappings of an accurate measuring stick of where each is at this point in the season.
Given the result, they’re closer in the standings than the 19-point gap between them would suggest. A few thoughts on what went wrong:
There was something subpar from almost every player in the lineup. The forward pairing of Josh Wolff and Hamdi Salihi never got going. Salihi was basically invisible until overtime, and Wolff tried hard but struggled to connect and execute. Branko Boskovic was mired in tight spaces and struggled to find Andy Najar and Nick DeLeon with room to make plays. Emiliano Dudar was sloppy and too casual in the back. Some of that could’ve had to do with Philadelphia, some with the setting, and Bill Hamid made a bunch of magnificent saves. But D.C. coach Ben Olsen had plenty of reasons to be frustrated and angry, saving an extra dose of fun for the crew led by Jose Carlos Rivero. Embrace Olsen’s one-of-a-kind postgame rant:
“I’ll look at myself first, and I’ll look at our staff first. But we gotta realize that’s not good enough. Too many guys were on their own page today. We were cute all over the field, and we thought it was going to be enough to step out here and beat a team because they’re a little down on their luck. Maybe it’s a good thing because this really does show us that we’re not as good as we think we are, and all the little things that got us success up to this point we forgot about tonight. There were signs that we were forgetting about that over the last couple of games, and we’ve been squeaking by. And tonight we didn’t squeak by, and it’s a good thing. I’m disappointed. I love the Open Cup. I wanted to go far in this tournament so I’m gutted in that respect. But you know what, maybe it’s a good reminder to the players and it’s a good reminder to myself that we need to get back to working hard and doing some of the things that got us some success.
“A typical Open Cup game. The referee is lousy. They always are, for both teams, and every Open Cup game, it just turns into an absolute circus. I don’t know if that needs to be addressed or not. Maybe that’s the fun of the Open Cup, that it’s an absolute zoo every game. It gets old. Believe me, I’m not blaming the referees tonight, but it doesn’t help. At the end of the day, this game is an absolute perfect reminder of what we can’t do, the attitude we cannot come to a game with.”
Olsen was asked about the second half, where there were far fewer chances for both teams after D.C. had escaped from a potential halftime deficit.
“We were absolutely riding our luck there,” he said. “In the first half we should’ve gave up a couple. We didn’t have any great chances. They had much more dangerous opportunities. Again, we’re casual. We don’t have to get into that spot. We don’t have to help that guy out. All the little things we forgot about today. And that’s fine. I don’t want to be dramatic. I know it’s the Open Cup. But I like the Open Cup. I wanted to win the Open Cup so I’m a little bit pissed off.”
Freddy Adu, in his first match back in the area since signing with Philadelphia last summer, got the last laugh even though he still goes down too easily. The guy was all smiles in the locker room afterward, and his game-winning assist was gorgeous. But while he looks stronger, he can always play stronger.
“This field, growing up we played here all the time,” Adu said, “and it brings back great memories. Just coming back, having friends and family here to watch and set that game winner up, especially against your former team, it’s nice. I’m just happy for our team because we’re having a pretty tough season so far, and to have a little run like this is really nice.”
It’s not exactly clear what happened to set Brandon McDonald off in a rage to get himself ejected in the second overtime, or to Union defender Carlos Valdes, who followed him off the field with his own red card. As much as there’s a romantic feeling about the U.S. Open Cup, their actions could be judged more as a symptom of the tournament’s failings than the actual problem. The games are full of drama, often spectacular plays and contributions from far less heralded players - look no further than the Union's rookie goalscorer, Antoine Hoppenot. But they're also always chippy, and the officiating always seems to be erratic. And when that happens, it diminishes the value of potentially gripping knockout soccer.
“I told you, it’s a circus,” Olsen said. “These games are an absolute circus because the refs don’t know how to handle the games, ever. They don’t know how to punish guys when they commit a lot of fouls or they should be thrown out of the game, and then it just escalates. They can’t handle it. It’s what it is. It’s what it’s always been. Again, maybe that’s part of the fun of the Open Cup. I don’t want in any to make me look like I’m scapegoating the referees. Please do not do that. This is on me, and this is on the players.”
The two teams will meet again a week from Saturday at PPL Park.