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U.S. Open Cup preview: Real Salt Lake and D.C. United compete for domestic soccer’s oldest crown

Oct 1, 2013, 6:00 AM EST

RSL-MLS Cup
  • This is the first of domestic soccer’s three significant, annual crowns
  • RSL attackers Alvaro Saborio and Javier Morales have 18 goals and 12 assists between them this year. D.C. United has just 20 goals total this year in league play.
  • Real Salt Lake is 50-14-14 in all competitions at Rio Tinto over the last four years

Tuesday’s contest at the base of the Wasatch Mountains sets up as such an awful mismatch that it hardly seems worth writing about in some ways.

Real Salt Lake and all its ongoing quality hosts a D.C. United team whose season has gone shockingly sideways. Well, well past its glory days (for now, at least) United’s 2013 season stands to be historically bad.

But seeming competitive imbalances aside, this is, after all, domestic soccer’s first of three big crowns (along with Major League Soccer’s Supporters Shield and the MLS Cup).  And this version of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup is extra special, the 100th edition.

Plus, this is a cup competition, where upsets are sometimes they way. And that may be the point, that no matter how horribly things have gone for Ben Olsen’s team, this is United’s one and only chance to put a big blue ribbon around a worthless season otherwise. The teams kick off Tuesday at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, Utah, just after 9 p.m. ET, live on GolTV.

(MORE: What an Open Cup title would mean to RSL, D.C. United)

Both teams rested their starters for MLS matches over the weekend. While that was a 100 percent no-brainer for D.C. United, which tumbled out of the MLS playoff picture weeks ago and tied all of its 2014 fortunes to this competition sometime during the interminable summer, it wasn’t so cut and dried for Real Salt Lake. RSL needed the points in MLS play, but manager Jason Kreis rolled the dice and fielded his reserves for a contest at Vancouver, a clear indication of how seriously the organization takes this competition.

“This is just a tournament that I’ve been pretty clear about with the players and I think I’ve been pretty clear with everybody,” Kreis said. “I want to win this tournament and I want to win it in the worst way.”

It would be Real Salt Lake’s second major trophy following the 2009 MLS Cup (pictured above). Not only is RSL playing at home, the talent edge is tilted heavily its way.

U.S. internationals Kyle Beckerman and Nick Rimando remain at the top of their games. Beckerman even manned the middle for Jurgen Klinsmann’s national team as the Americans clinched their World Cup 2014 spot three weeks ago in a 2-0 win over Mexico.

source: Getty Images

D.C. United forward Dwayne De Rosario has 3 goals and 2 assists in league play this year, his worst output since joining Major League Soccer in 2001.

Costa Rican international striker Alvaro Saborio should return to the field following his recent injury struggles; he has 50 goals in 94 league matches with RSL, a prodigious rate in almost any league. Javier Morales (8 goals and 10 assists) may have wandered over to the wrong side of 30 (he is 33 now), but the Argentine playmaker has looked like his younger self lately.

Consider that Saborio and Morales have combined for 18 goals in league play; United has 20 goals total in league play, still flirting with historic lows in goals over an entire season (not to mention fewest wins over an entire season.)

Speaking of his younger self, midfielder Ned Grabavoy, now in his 10th MLS season, has been nothing short of a revelation for Kreis and Co. this year. His experience – Grabavoy won a U.S. Open Cup title with Los Angeles in 2005 – is a great balance for all the terrific young talent around Rio Tinto, the likes of Luis Gil and Olmes Garcia, just to mention two.

United isn’t completely without talent, starting with holding midfielder Perry Kitchen and U.S. under-23 goalkeeper Bill Hamid, both of whom will need massive matches.

And then there is 35-year-old former MLS MVP Dwayne De Rosario, who has slowed dramatically this year. His inability to get going in 2013 is a major reason why United is last in the East (a 3-21-6 record) with what it easily the league’s worst offense. United has just 20 goals in 30 MLS matches.

History is on United’s side, at least; the team from RFK Stadium has two Open Cup crowns (1996 and 2008) and been runner-up two other times.

But any edge in history hoodoo is probably mitigated by Real Salt Lake’s well-established authority at home. Kreis’ team is 50-14-14 at Rio Tinto in all competitions over the last four years.

(MORE: A domestic soccer “Treble” could loom, but this is the first box to check)

(MORE: Where would a United win rank among Open Cup upsets?)

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