- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 2, 2009

After almost a month of unconvincing soccer, D.C. United appears to be coming into form at just the right time.

The club scored a morale-boosting 1-0 road win over Chicago on Saturday - its lone victory in eight August matches - on the heels of a scoreless draw against the in-form Los Angeles Galaxy. Two consecutive league shutouts provided signs of defensive improvement and good news headed into Wednesday’s U.S. Open Cup final against Seattle Sounders FC.

“There’s obviously a real excitement, and it doesn’t hurt coming off a good road victory,” United coach Tom Soehn said. “Our confidence is high.”

United hopes to use that confidence to become the first MLS team to win back-to-back U.S. Open Cups. Its core of first-team players are all fit, and there’s finally a passion - at times almost too much - to make this season a success.

“The way the season has been - up and down, up and down - this is a chance to have some big smiles after a game,” United goalie Josh Wicks said.

The 25-year-old goalie had an on-field altercation with teammate Marc Burch near the end of the win over Chicago. Tempers simply flared in the waning moments of a crucial game, and Wicks said the incident is now “water under the bridge.”

United has to deal with one setback headed into Wednesday’s match. Defender Julius James, who played well as a central defender in United’s new 4-4-2 formation against Chicago, is cup-tied because he played for another team in the tournament before joining United and, hence, must sit out against the Sounders. Soehn will have to fiddle slightly with his lineup. He has the option of going back to a three-man defense or placing Devon McTavish or Rodney Wallace on the back line.

It’s a tough decision for Soehn as United goes for its third U.S. Open Cup trophy and its 13th piece of silverware overall in its 14-year history.

Besides a spat over hosting the Open Cup final and who could draw the most fans, United and Seattle each had to compete in two play-in games and five knockout games to reach the final.

Seattle is trying to become just the second first-year MLS team to win a title. Chicago did it in 1998, when it also won the MLS Cup.

The Sounders are led by veteran American goalie Kasey Keller and former Arsenal standout Freddie Ljungberg. The team continues to ride a wave of fan enthusiasm, drawing more than 30,000 to its games at Qwest Field.

“They are a dynamic team, but they are playing in our building,” Soehn said. “It’s a little harder to play when our home fans are giving them a little home cooking.”

After a spending binge to promote the game, it will hurt worse if United loses before a crowd of fewer than 15,000. As of Tuesday, 11,000 tickets had been sold. United president Kevin Payne had predicted that as many as 20,000 fans would attend the match.

The 96-year old U.S. Open Cup, fashioned after England’s popular FA Cup, offers a $100,000 prize to the winner and $50,000 to the runners-up.

“Everybody will be able to buy their wives a new pair of shoes,” United midfielder Ben Olsen said.

This will be United’s second game against the Sounders following a 3-3 tie at Qwest Field in June.

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