CHESTER, Pa. -- It has become an annual U.S. Open Cup tradition.
For the third consecutive season, the Union travel to the Maryland SoccerPlex to challenge DC United in the fourth round of the Open Cup tournament.
And just like every time the Union face the United, they are expecting Wednesday’s match to be a good one.
“It always seems to go through that field,” said Union captain Brian Carroll, who scored in both Open Cup games against the United. “They’re going to be a good opponent. The Open Cup is always a battle. Against DC, it’s always an extra rivalry, an extra heated match. We expect their best, and we’re going to have to bring our best.”
In 2011, the Union lost in penalty kicks to the United in the play-in round of MLS qualifications of the Open Cup. In 2012, the Union got revenge, winning 2-1.
Both games were close and both needed extra time to be decided.
“We enjoy it,” said Union goalkeeper Zac MacMath. “We’re excited to play DC again, and obviously it’s a big rivalry for us. The Open Cup has become a big rivalry for us with them. We’re all looking forward to it, and I think it will be a good game.”
Hackworth expects the same style of game between the two clubs.
“I expect this game to be a typical game at the SoccerPlex,” said the coach. “It’s going to be a hard game and emotional game. I think DC will absolutely put everything they have into winning the game. We have to make sure we match or exceed all of those things. I know it’s going to be a tough game no matter what.”
While the Union prepare for a similar game on the scoreboard, they are also predicting a typical Union - United grudge match. In their last two Open Cup games against each other, the two teams combined to collect four red cards.
“I would be surprised if we finished tomorrow night 11-on-11,” said Hackworth. “We’ll have to see how it goes. I hope it’s a great soccer game, we score lots of goals and they don’t score any, but that’s unrealistic.
“Whether you play in the Open Cup or whether it’s a league game, this rivalry is real and that’s what it comes down to. It’s always going to be feisty when we play.”
Getting to this point, the Union squeaked by the Ocean City Nor’easters, 2-1, on a late goal by Carroll in the third round. It was the fourth game won by the Union in the Open Cup through the last two tournaments.
Though the Union made a semifinals run through the tournament last season, Carroll feels like defeating the United in the process gives them a distinct advantage on Wednesday.
“In the back of our mind, we have that little bit of extra confidence,” said the captain. “But we know how difficult this tournament is and how difficult it is going to be against them, so we have to be ready.”
With a 1-10-3 record in MLS play this season, the hard-luck United are struggling. Barely scraping by the Richmond Kickers in the third round of the Open Cup and winning on penalty kicks, Ben Olsen’s club is trying to find momentum where it can get it.
“The Open Cup is important for us and I know it’s important for DC,” said Hackworth. “They’ve said it, this is there way to turn their season around and play for something. We did the exact same thing last year. Both teams will be ready tomorrow.”
On the roster front, the Union will be without Jose Kleberson, whose hamstring injury is worse than originally thought. The United will be without Carlos Ruiz to international duty and defender Chris Korb, who received a red card against the Kickers.
“They haven’t changed the way they play,” said Hackworth. “So it’s tactics. Korb not being there will change a lot but they won’t change the way they play.”
Union’s newest defender is … a forward?
It’s been no secret that with the departure of Bakary Soumare to trade, the Union have been in need of defensive depth -- even someone to push the starters for playing time. And though the team has been actively shopping the market for the perfect fit, the Union may have found their man Friday night in a friendly against Reading United.
“We had an injury come up very late going into Reading,” said Hackworth. “We put [forward] Aaron Wheeler at center back. He did such a good job at center back against Reading, it changed our perspective a bit. We thought we needed to look outside to bring in a center back to provide some coverage but Aaron was good. It’s a long term process when you move a guy from forward to center back but Aaron has a lot of those qualities and he played well.”
Wheeler also scored to give the Union the 2-0 win.
“We come out of that game feeling better about our depth at defense then we did going into it,” Hackworth said.