When it comes to their first match of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup each year, history is definitely on FC Dallas' side. All-time, FCD is 11-2-0 to open play in the Open Cup with their last opening loss coming in August 2003 to the Wilmington Hammerheads. Since then, the Western Conference club has outscored their opening-round foes 13-6.
However, Wednesday night's play-in game against D.C. United at RFK Stadium will mark the first time FCD has ever faced an MLS foe in their first Open Cup match. The last time the two sides met in this event, on Aug. 24, 2005, FCD came away with a win on penalty kicks at RFK after a 1-1 draw. Carlos Ruiz had the lone goal for FCD, who advanced by going 4-for-5 on PKs.
FCD midfielder Eric Avila knows that facing better competition right off the bat in this year's tournament means they will have to play at a higher level to advance.
"It's a great situation because we get to play D.C. and can see what they're about," he said "Last time, we started with some USL teams and it was a lot easier for us. Now we've got to step it up a notch because it's an MLS team now." Even though FCD returns to league action on Saturday night against Chivas USA at The Home Depot Center, the players and coaches still take the game very seriously.
"It's got a little more of a special meaning to it," FCD assistant coach John Ellinger said. "We'd obviously like to advance in the Open Cup, but realistically, we know that we need another three points. I think we have played two good games on the row and would like to have a third, but we don't want to shoot ourselves in the foot by putting all of our starters out there against D.C. It's hard to speak for what they're going to do simply because they had a game Friday and play again on Sunday. They have a little bit of a break, can play a lot of their starters and get more from them."
After a short training session on Tuesday, Ellinger said that FCD's first 11 at RFK should be about a 60/40 mix between starters and reserves. Four players did not make the trip: Josh Lambo, Steve Purdy, Brek Shea and Anthony Wallace.
Given that he has four goals in five career Open Cup games, one would have to think that FCD forward Kenny Cooper would be a starter on Wednesday evening.
"To be honest, D.C. is one of my favorite places to go play," Cooper said. "They have great support and great supporters who really get into the game and create a great atmosphere. I love playing in front of those kinds of fans and am really looking forward to playing an Open Cup game there."
Ellinger also said on Tuesday that right back Marcelo Saragosa, who made his 2009 debut in Sunday's 3-2 win against Toronto FC, will likely not be in the first 11 since he is still not 100 percent after knee surgery.
That means Michael Dello-Russo, who performed admirably on the right side for two games prior to the Brazilian international's return is the likely choice there. FCD head coach Schellas Hyndman has a wealth of options on defense. Starting center backs George John and Drew Moor could reprise their roles but also could be replaced by Aaron Pitchkolan and Daniel Torres.
Hyndman could go with Blake Wagner at left back but Torres could fill in there. With Shea and Wallace, who have both seen time there, still in Frisco, Torres or Wagner are the only options.
In goal, Ray Burse has started the last four league games and has a 2-0-0 record with a 0.85 goals against average in two Open Cup appearances. However, normal starter Dario Sala is chomping at the bit to return to the field and could do so against United.
"As far as I am concerned, I was ready last Saturday," Sala said. "I have finished my rehab and finished my recovery on Saturday. Now it's up to the coaches. I'm trying to get my spot back. I had a good preseason after making a big sacrifice to come back early, so I hope it's worth it. I hope it's appreciated -- my desire to come back to the team as soon as possible. I hope to earn my position back right away."
In the midfield, normal starter Andre Rocha could return on the right or be replaced by Alvaro Sanchez, though Avila can also play there. Then again, with left midfielder Dave van den Bergh likely not starting, Hyndman could put the left-footed Sanchez on the left or could also employ Avila there.
At the holding midfield role, captain Pablo Ricchetti figures to get a breather for Bruno Guarda. Dax McCarty should be the attacking midfielder, a role he has held for FCD's last few games. Up top, Hyndman will likely use Cooper alongside Jeff Cunningham, David Ferreira or rookie Peri Marosevic. Sanchez is also an option up top as a second striker.
Steve Hunt is a contributor to MLSnet.com.