United set for Cup semis

After returning to its winning ways last weekend and becoming the first team to clinch a Major League Soccer playoff berth, D.C. United is now focused on other important matters. For instance, United takes on the Chicago Fire in semifinals of the U.S. Open Cup tonight in Bridgeville, Ill.

Although winning the MLS title is United’s key goal, reaching the final of the Cup is not to be taken lightly. The club is eager to add to the seven titles it has accumulated in the past decade.

“It’s the semifinal, so it’s very important,” coach Peter Nowak said. “As I said to the players, we have everything in front of us right now — the semifinal of the U.S. Open Cup, a good run at the Supporters’ Shield and we’ve locked up a playoff spot.”

The Shield goes to the team with the most points in regular-season play and earns the team a berth in the CONCACAF Cup. United has a five-point lead over FC Dallas in the chase for the Shield.

United also is looking to make amends for last year’s failures. The team collapsed in the key deciding games of four competitions: CONCACAF Cup, Sudamericana, U.S. Open Cup and MLS playoffs, ending the year empty-handed.

“It’s pretty clear that last year we were upset not to get any silverware or trophies out of the whole season, so our goal this year is to try and get all of them,” said forward Alecko Eskandarian.

United’s leading goal scorer, Jaime Moreno, will miss tonight’s game after suffering tendinitis in his knee in Sunday’s 2-1 victory at Chivas USA, which ended United’s five-game winless streak. Forward Jamil Walker, who has scored three goals in the Cup this year, is likely to get a starting role.

United reached the semifinals of the U.S. Open Cup with a 2-1 win over the Columbus Crew in Germantown on Aug.2 and a 3-1 victory over the New York Red Bulls in the quarterfinals Aug.23 at RFK Stadium.

In the latter win, Nowak started a number of his reserve players, including midfielders Rod Dyachenko and backup goalie Nick Rimando. The club’s recent addition from Argentina, midfielder Matias Donnet, who pleased Nowak with his 45 minutes of play in Sunday’s game, also is likely to see action tonight.

The U.S. Open Cup is a single-elimination tournament open to all American amateur and pro teams. The Cup was founded in 1914 and is similar to England’s famed FA Cup. This year’s winner takes home $100,000. United won the event in 1996 but has not appeared in the final since 1997. United lost in the semifinals in 2001 and 2003.

The winner of tonight’s game will play the winner between the defending champion Los Angles Galaxy and the Houston Dynamo at a location to be determined. Chicago reached the semifinals with a 2-1 winner over the New England Revolution.

Notes — Tonight’s game will not be televised, but fans can follow the audio feed on www.dcunited.com. … United midfielder Christian Gomez was named MLS Player of the Week for his two goals in the 2-1 win at Chivas USA. … Defender John Wilson underwent knee surgery yesterday.

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