Wednesday's U.S. Open Cup showdown between D.C. United and FC Dallas -- a rematch of the 1997 Open Cup Final -- features two of the most explosive offenses in MLS, but both teams' preparation for the match has been complicated by Tuesday's Trofeo Santiago Bernabéu in Madrid, Spain, where an MLS Select 11 is taking on Real Madrid in their 2005 season opener.
In addition to D.C. goalkeeper Nick Rimando, influential veterans Jaime Moreno (United) and Ronnie O'Brien (FC Dallas) are also part of the MLS team and the travel logistics alone may make it difficult for them to make their normal contribution -- if any -- to the Open Cup match. The Real match kicks off at 3:30 p.m. ET, and most of the MLS squad will fly back across the Atlantic via Chicago on Wednesday morning.
But Moreno, perhaps acknowledging the importance of the Dallas match and his presence as United's captain, made plans to return separately via New York with the hopes of boosting his young team's incipient Cup run.
Though, there might be a snag in those plans. Per official league rules, a player is not permitted to play two matches within 36 hours. If Moreno, Rimando and O'Brien play Tuesday against Real Madrid, they will not be eligible to play Wednesday.
After Saturday's 3-2 loss to the Los Angeles Galaxy, the veteran Bolivian was somewhat philosophical about the result and expressed his confidence in a positive result against the Hoops.
"You know, when you lose, it's easy to find mistakes," Moreno said. "We're humans, we make mistakes, it's just part of the game. It's not good enough, we know that we've got to do better. I'm not concerned at all, because this was just one of those games that don't go your way. Now we've just got to rest and think of Wednesday -- there's another important game."
Depending on the course of events in Madrid, D.C. coach Peter Nowak seems likely to keep the crafty striker on the bench at the start of Wednesday's match and bring him on in the second half to test tired defenders. Freddy Adu had harbored hopes of returning from a knee sprain in time for this game, but Nowak and his staff could give in-form backup Jamil Walker the nod and save Adu for the crucial trip to New England this weekend.
At the other end of the pitch, Rimando's scheduled late arrival suggests that his capable backup Troy Perkins will get the nod in goal.
Perkins and his defense will be most concerned with containing prolific Hoops striker Carlos Ruiz, who burned United with a well-taken brace in Dallas's confident victory at RFK in May, though U.S. international Eddie Johnson has been on the comeback trail and figures to see action as well.
"They came in here and beat us 2-0 last time," said United winger Josh Gros. "They're a great team, they've got two of the best forwards in the league. So it's going to be another tough game -- we don't get any breaks."
Gros and the rest of the midfield could receive a boost from the return of inspirational veteran Ben Olsen, whose strained oblique muscle sidelined him for the Galaxy match. But as with Adu, the touch-and-go nature of Olsen's injury forces Nowak and company to handle the situation carefully as they juggle their desire for an extended Open Cup run with their constant focus on reeling in the Eastern Conference-leading Revolution.
The final Wednesday wild card is the location itself. United's RFK home is presently in use for a Washington Nationals homestand, so the Cup clash is taking place an hour outside of town in the intimate confines of the Maryland SoccerPlex, which previously played host to D.C.'s CONCACAF Champions' Cup matchup with Jamaica's Harbour View FC under frigid conditions in March.
The small venue allows fans to get close to the action, but lacks RFK's intimidating acoustics. Nonetheless, United striker Santino Quaranta is optimistic that D.C.'s hard-core fans will be able to brave the rush-hour traffic to Germantown, Md., and help the team resume their stretch run.
"It'll be a good atmosphere, and it'll be a tough game," he said. "Obviously, these tournaments are tough. We're getting into August now, it's pretty late in the season and it's just going to be a fight from now on."
Charles Boehm is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.