Oct 1, 2013, 11:16 PM EDT
Let’s save the larger debates for later about whether D.C. United’s season was somehow saved – heck, for that matter, whether coach Ben Olsen’s job was saved – on a gorgeous Tuesday night in the Utah mountains?
And we may need time to digest what, exactly, to make of the irony or all domestic soccer ironies, that one of the worst teams in Major League Soccer history – not by subjective measure, but by a mounting stack of hard statistical evidence – is the new Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup champion.
But for now, let’s just tip our caps to Olsen’s men, who bravely ignored the blistering odds and brushed off any negative energy from a league campaign gone sideways to concoct a moment of redemption, to dig some joy from these months of misery.
D.C. United is the new U.S. Open Cup champion (on the storied tournament’s centennial, 100th version no less). And Lewis Neal, a fairly anonymous figure among some of the real giants who have performed through the years for the Black and Red, now has his place in club history. It was Neal’s goal just before half that held in up the 1-0 win at a stunned Rio Tinto Stadium.
In addition to $250,000 prize money and the right to feel good about something for a while, United will claim the CONCACAF Champions League berth that goes to each year’s Open Cup winner.
Relentless, determined, committed pressure from D.C. United meant more Tuesday over 90 minutes than the yawning and telling 36-point gap between the teams in Major League Soccer’s standings. Yes, 36 points. United has just three wins in league play all year (a 3-21-6 record, dead last in the East and last for months in our own weekly rankings)
But that’s tournament play, and that’s what makes single-elimination competition like the Open Cup special. Just as Wigan showed the world six months ago while claiming the FA Cup implausibly, a lesser team can pour enough effort into one match to smite the giants over 90 minutes.
Real Salt Lake, with the better talent and the home-field edge, looked strangely out of sorts or tentative (or maybe a little combination of both) in Tuesday’s early minutes. Unable to break down United’s recessed defense, the home team needed half an hour to concoct its first good scoring opportunity. That came when Ned Grabavoy joined Sebastian Velasquez to find Joao Plata’s clever run through, only to see the shot sail high and wide.
For all of RSL’s possession, the men from Utah weren’t doing much with it. And it cost Jason Kreis’ team just before intermission.
Olsen’s plan of “bunker and break strategically” paid off just before the break when Perry Kitchen, DCU’s best man to that point, launched a sequence that finished with a loose ball in RSL’s penalty area. Neal pounced and his well-placed, well-hit left-footer gave RSL ‘keeper Nick Rimando little chance.
RSL turned up the pressure immediately after the break, but timely interventions from center back Dejan Jakovic (who gets beaten up regularly by fans and media) and from goalkeeper Bill Hamid kept United’s lead. Hamid’s 81st minute stop on a close-in effort from RSL striker Alvaro Saborio marked his night’s best work.
Meanwhile, center back Ethan White may have put in the best 90 minutes yet in a United shirt.
RSL, finding the urgency that so dearly missed through the first 45 minutes, got closer and closer. Velasquez’s big shot off the cross bar in the 60th minute. Ten minutes after that, Nat Borchers went just wide with a header and Saborio went just high in stoppage time.
Jul 29, 2014, 11:20 PM EDT
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Jul 29, 2014, 10:36 PM EDT
The 3,600 meters of elevation will provide a stiff challenge, with many opposing clubs having fallen victim to the altitude.
Jul 29, 2014, 9:43 PM EDT
Manchester United continued their success in the US with a third consecutive victory.
Jul 29, 2014, 9:01 PM EDT
Sturridge and Ibe step to the mic and hold their own.
Jul 29, 2014, 8:24 PM EDT
In team news, van Gaal has decided to go with his fabled 3-5-2.
Jul 29, 2014, 8:03 PM EDT
In a startling revelation, AS has revealed that Radamel Falcao has begun following three Real Madrid players on Instagram.
Jul 29, 2014, 7:08 PM EDT
Big day for headlines coming out of Southampton but this one looks to be quite promising for Saints fans.
Jul 29, 2014, 6:30 PM EDT
Twenty-seven years after his first stint with Gremio, Luis Felipe Scolari is returning to the Brazilian side as its new manager.
Jul 29, 2014, 6:00 PM EDT
Krkic, who made the $6.7 million move from Barcelona last week, scored a cracker of a first goal for Stoke City.
Jul 29, 2014, 5:25 PM EDT
Tevez’s family was then phoned and told to deliver a ransom of $5,000 (40,000 pesos).
Jul 29, 2014, 4:53 PM EDT
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Jul 29, 2014, 4:03 PM EDT
Where, exactly, Ronaldinho’s future ends up is anyone’s guess.
Jul 29, 2014, 3:22 PM EDT
ICC and MLS action is in full swing in the USA this week. Watch it all online, here.
Jul 29, 2014, 2:57 PM EDT
Jacobson arrives in the Big Apple from Dallas. Will Aquilani join him?
Jul 29, 2014, 2:20 PM EDT
Now Schneiderlin wants out as Saints’ incredible exodus continues to take a turn for the worst.
Jul 29, 2014, 1:58 PM EDT
Despite not winning any silverware last season, Barcelona were big winners off the pitch.
Jul 29, 2014, 1:21 PM EDT
Tevez’s father, Juan Carlos Cabral, is said to have been kidnapped in Buenos Aires and held for ransom.
Jul 29, 2014, 1:15 PM EDT
Southampton duo are going nowhere, despite being linked with Tottenham switch.
Jul 29, 2014, 12:37 PM EDT
Liverpool sign talented Belgian teenager, will loan him back to Lille this season.
Jul 29, 2014, 12:11 PM EDT
Even after calling African players “banana eaters” this man is set lead the Italian FA.
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