(UPDATE: The original version of this story claimed that D.C. United had won the Carolina Challenge Cup based on the head-to-head tiebreaker with the Fire. This was incorrect, and the story has been corrected to reflect that. Tiebreakers, in order of importance, are points, goal differential and goals scored.)
CHARLESTON, S.C. – It may be the most modest three-peat in the history of the phrase should D.C. United clinch another Carolina Challenge Cup title on Saturday.
D.C. United certainly didn’t celebrate closing in on their third straight Carolina Challenge Cup title on Saturday night with a 3-1 victory against the Charleston Battery.
Heck, head coach Ben Olsen barely acknowledged it. He was more concerned with what his team didn’t accomplish: namely, playing a full 90 minutes at a high level.
“We’re not so concerned with winning the [Carolina Challenge Cup],” Olsen told MLSsoccer.com following the match. “Our focus here and our goal is to get better and get ready for the season. We won two games, but we’ve really only played two halves out of the four that I was pleased with. Two of them weren’t good enough.
“When we play one-two touch and get the ball off our feet and move and play the game the way it’s supposed to be played, we’re a pretty good team. When we complicate things and try to do too much, we struggle. We have one more game now to try to get it right.”
That game will come on Saturday against the Columbus Crew, who lost 1-0 to the Chicago Fire in the Wednesday night’s opening match at Blackbaud Stadium. D.C. United will win their third straight title with either a win or a draw. The Fire can claim the honor if they can make up the difference in goal differential between the two sides. If the teams finished tied on goal differential -- United will be plus-three and Chicago even entering the final matches -- the title will be decided by goals scored.
And even though Olsen wasn’t completely satisfied with the performance, especially in the first half when Charleston looked dangerous at times, he was pleased with the performance of Branko Boskovic, who assisted Maicon Santos on the game's first goal and looked assured and strong on the ball before being replaced at halftime.
“It was important for Branko to just get back in the flow,” Olsen said. “He showed a couple time how special a player he is, so this was a big step for him.”
Boskovic’s former teammate and United’s newest Designated Player, Hamdi Salihi, also impressed, albeit in just 20 minutes as a second-half substitute.
Salihi had one clever flick at the near post save before putting his name on the score sheet for the second straight game, sliding Andy Najar’s feed into an open net in the 88th minute. The Albanian opened his D.C. account in his first match with the club on Saturday with a stunning half volley against Chicago.
“He’s just what we ordered really,” Olsen said. “The guy just knows how to score goals. He always in the right spot in and around the 18. He’s a wonderful finisher. We’re very excited to have him. We’re lucky to have him.”
Salihi is expected to help ease the burden on 2011 MLS MVP Dwayne De Rosario. De Rosario was given the night off after playing 58 minutes against the Fire on Saturday.
Olsen said he would give De Rosario another run out on Saturday against the Crew as D.C. inches closer to opening day and begins to put the pieces together that will make up their lineup in 2011.
For now, thought, that is still a work in progress, especially since Salihi only recently arrived and Boskovic is coming off a season-ending injury.
“It’s always a race to try to get the guys that you’re going to rely on during the season on the same page,” Olsen said. “We’re getting there, but it’s not going to happen overnight
Cruz to have X-rays on ankles
Following the match, Danny Cruz was carried to the locker room by trainers with ice packs wrapped around each ankle after separate incidents in each half.
The former Houston midfielder went down hard in the first half after a tackle in the penalty area and was on the receiving end of a reckless challenge by Mark Wiltse in the second half that forced him out of the game and resulted in a straight red card.
Cruz was scheduled to have X-rays on both ankles Wednesday night, but based on the tackle and the precautions being taken, it didn’t appear good news was forthcoming.
“Hopefully, he’s OK,” Olsen said. “It was a terrible tackle from the kid. I don’t know. ... It’s a shame. In preseason, you don’t want to see that stuff.”