WASHINGTON – With one MLS match remaining before the US Open Cup final against Real Salt Lake on Oct. 1, Saturday’s trip to Toronto will provide D.C. United’s younger and lesser-used players an opportunity to log some first-team minutes.
Seeing as the last-place club is well out of playoff contention, a huge amount of emphasis has long been placed on Tuesday’s final. So much so that United’s expected starters for that match have stuck around in D.C. to prepare while coach Ben Olsen enters Saturday’s contest (1 pm ET, MLS Live) with what is expected to be an eclectic mix of players.
“Unfortunately, we have the luxury to do certain things this season and one of them is to play young guys and tinker with the lineup and see how certain guys respond to MLS games,” Olsen said Friday. “So I’m looking forward to seeing these guys. I know they’re looking forward to it and it’s a wonderful opportunity for them.”
United have already fielded the youngest lineup in club history this season and could potentially break that mark Saturday. According the match notes Taylor Kemp (23), Jared Jeffrey (23), Collin Martin (18), Conor Shanosky (21) and Conor Doyle (21) all are projected in the starting XI. Michael Seaton (17) also traveled with the club and likely will see time.
“I’m really excited for this weekend against Toronto. It’s a good opportunity,” said Martin, who has played in four matches since singing with the club in July. “Coaches and players have really been stressing playing in the moment and trying to get a win. There’s not much to lose, so we’re really excited about going out there and trying to get result.”
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United currently are riding a seven-match winless streak (0-5-2) and even with the regulars back home, a win heading into the Open Cup final likely would provide a boost. Still, it’s clear that Olsen and his staff will experiment with their starting XI as the season winds down in an attempt to evaluate talent and build momentum heading into 2014.
“We win either way,” Olsen said. “If it’s a tough night and we take a lot of lessons and lumps, it’s a learning experience. If we get a result, it’s a whole other learning experience and now these young guys have a little bit more of a belief.
“It’s a great opportunity for the players, for the coaches to sit back and watch. Again, a lot of these guys wouldn’t have the luxury of a full MLS game if we weren’t in the situation we’re in.”