- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 22, 2009

D.C. United might be the current holder of the U.S. Open Cup, but that’s little consolation as it begins the defense of its title.

Because of its poor form in MLS last season, United will need to win two preliminary games this year just to get into the oldest soccer tournament in the United States, which begins Wednesday night against FC Dallas at RFK Stadium.

United defeated the Charleston Battery 2-1 to win the U.S. Open Cup on Sept. 3 at RFK. The victory over the USL1 opponent was one of the few bright spots in an otherwise forgettable season for United that included no playoffs.

“It’s always important after winning a championship to prove that you can defend your title,” United defender Bryan Namoff said. “The frustration is we have to have a play-in game in order to get into the tournament to defend our title.”

United won four games to claim the Cup title in 2008. This year, in order to repeat, it will have to win six games. The U.S. Open Cup is open to all clubs - amateur and professional - in the United States. Eight MLS teams join the event in the third round. The six MLS teams with the most points at the end of the league season automatically qualify. The two other MLS teams are determined through a play-in. If United beats FC Dallas, it will then have to play the winner of the San Jose Earthquakes-New York Red Bulls matchup in mid- to late May.

With one eye on an important MLS road game against the Red Bulls on Sunday, United coach Tom Soehn will likely rest some players for the Dallas game.

“It gives an opportunity for some of the younger players to get a taste of the tournament and gamesmanship,” Namoff said. “Some guys, who might have taken some knocks in the previous week, will get a rest.”

Midfielder Ben Olsen, who scored United’s game-tying goal Friday against the New England Revolution, likely will sit to rest his ailing ankles. Soehn may use the game to test one of Louis Crayton’s backups in goal - either Josh Wicks or rookie Milos Kosic. Midfielder Christian Gomez is reported to be out with a hamstring injury.

United’s back line will have to be well-aware of Baltimore native Kenny Cooper, who is tied for the MLS lead with four goals. He scored twice Saturday as FC Dallas recorded its first win of the season against Toronto. A former member of Manchester United’s reserves and current European transfer target, Cooper scored what could go down as the goal of the year last month. The forward drilled a shot from just past midfield in a 3-1 loss to the Chicago Fire.

“We know Cooper is a big presence and he’s had a lot of success early on in this year,” Namoff said. “If he does play, we have to make sure we provide a lot of cover.”

The winner of the U.S. Open Cup earns a playoff berth in the 2010 CONCACAF Champions League.