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.
Mar 12, 2014, 12:23 AM EDT
A 95th minute goal from Alan Gordon gives San Jose momentum ahead of next week’s second leg.
Mar 11, 2014, 11:54 PM EDT
Last year’s MLS Cup qualifiers start the season 1-2 in our rankings.
Mar 11, 2014, 9:43 PM EDT
Gunners prospect could soon be locked into an international career with Germany.
Mar 11, 2014, 8:56 PM EDT
Champions League was Milan’s last battle. Now, two months of auditions for next year’s team begin, with Seedorf decide who will return for the Rossoneri’s restart.
Mar 11, 2014, 8:06 PM EDT
Over the course of two legs, Arsenal was outshot 41-15 and had only 27 percent of the ball.
Mar 11, 2014, 7:02 PM EDT
Legacy didn’t matter, Costa is ready for your love, and Atlético improved but imperfect.
Mar 11, 2014, 6:34 PM EDT
Another sickening blow for Holden, who suffers knee ligament damage after latest comeback game goes horribly wrong:
Mar 11, 2014, 6:17 PM EDT
With the Gunners falling at the first UCL knockout hurdle once again, what did we learn this time?
Battling Arsenal bow out, as Bayern Munich reach UEFA Champions League quarters after 1-1 draw (3-1, agg.)
Mar 11, 2014, 5:42 PM EDT
Defending champions Bayern down Gunners to reach quarterfinals of Champions League:
Mar 11, 2014, 5:38 PM EDT
With seven goals in five Champions League games, Costa has led Atlético into the quarterfinals.
Mar 11, 2014, 4:44 PM EDT
Three Vancouver Whitecaps, three Columbus Crew take their place in the first week’s Best XI.
Mar 11, 2014, 4:03 PM EDT
Japanese youngster traveled with squad to Munich… then Arsenal found out he was ineligible:
Mar 11, 2014, 2:55 PM EDT
Nick Rimando snared the league’s honor, but the Dancing Bear claims PST’s first weekly award.
Mar 11, 2014, 2:02 PM EDT
Can the Gunners go on the road and beat Bayern 2-0 for a second-straight season in the UCL?
Mar 11, 2014, 1:20 PM EDT
American investment company now owns 25 percent of United’s total shares on the NYSE:
Mar 11, 2014, 12:43 PM EDT
Newcastle boss full of remorse after unsavory incident lands him in hot water:
Mar 11, 2014, 12:09 PM EDT
Pardew reprimanded by the FA, is his ban long enough?
Mar 11, 2014, 11:40 AM EDT
German youth international, eligible to play for the USMNT, set to extend stay with Arsenal:
Mar 11, 2014, 10:46 AM EDT
Ankle sprain is “a very rare and unique injury, and we are trying to treat it as well as possible.”
Mar 11, 2014, 4:55 AM EDT
Milan’s failed to turn its season around, with Atlético has stabilized after a February swoon.
- PST’s Major League Soccer Power Rankings – Week 1 0
- Arsenal midfielder Gedion Zelalem about to jump off the U.S. Soccer radar 6
- Stuart Holden out for 6-9 months, as serious injury hits U.S. international once again 3
- Three things we learned from Arsenal’s failed UEFA Champions League campaign 1
- Battling Arsenal bow out, as Bayern Munich reach UEFA Champions League quarters after 1-1 draw (3-1, agg.) 1
- Two from Diego Costa help Atlético Madrid cruise past Milan in Champions League, 4-1 (5-1, agg.) 0
- Disappointing Opener for the Chicago Fire
- Liverpool says Pepe Reina can Leave Permanently for Four Million Pounds
- Sporting KC Sign Antonio Dovale
- Cruz Azul Ready to Continue Good Form in CONCACAF
- Escalada's Brace Against Leon Puts Emelec at Top in Libertadores Cup
- Galaxy Know Home Cooking is key to Beating Tijuana
- Santos Waste Away Advantage Against Venezuelan Minnows in Libertadores Cup
- Sporting Ready for Champions League Test
- Kaká Becomes First Brazilian to Reach 30 Goals in the Champions League
- Gaston Fernandez Unstoppable in Major League Soccer Debut