DC United can be an incredibly dangerous opponent. They are chock full of attacking talent, even with Paul Arriola gone for international duty, and feature solid defenders in front of a revitalized Bill Hamid.
But there has been a disturbing lack of consistency up front. In their past 13 games, DC has scored zero or one goal 10 times; they have scored three goals in every other game.
Wayne Rooney is Wayne Rooney, but Lucho Acosta has not, until recently, appeared to be the same player that caught fire when Rooney arrived on the scene last season.
Is it the transfer rumors that have gotten to Acosta, or is he just struggling to recover the form that spurred United to the playoffs a year ago?
The Union will find out on Wednesday as they travel to Audi Field to begin their Open Cup run.
Open Cup matches against MLS sides offer a good chance to mix surefire starters with guys pushing for a bigger role in the second half of the season. For DC United, those guys include veteran Zoltan Stieber and homegrown stud Griffin Yow.
Stieber can play on the wings or in a deeper role, and Yow is a direct attacking wonder looking to take the Brenden Aaronson route from homegrown signing to regular starter. Both Yow and Chris Durkin are flitting around the fringes and hoping to push their way into the first team with big performances in the Open Cup.
Philly also has guys that want to break into the starting lineup, though there is more depth in back for the visitors. Recent U-20 World Cup returnees Mark McKenzie and Matt Real will hope to make the leap into regulars during the second half of the season. Additionally, Olivier Mbaizo is looking to grab more minutes as the season progresses.
No matter who the Union put on the pitch, the way they play won’t change. The aggressive, front-foot system has made Philadelphia one of the best attacking teams in MLS, and it should be effective against a United back line that pushes fullbacks forward and can leave their center backs on an island. If the Union can play quickly enough to bypass DC’s midfield destroyers and target the central defenders.
And don’t forget: If these teams are tied after 90 minutes, there could be an extra half-hour of soccer for two sides hoping to grab a breather at the MLS season’s midway point.