By Jason Davis - WASHINGTON, DC (Aug 9, 2013) US Soccer Players - The final of the 100th edition of the US Open Cup will pit two teams with two very different outlooks on their chance to lift the first trophy available in 2013. One is looking to redeem a season they will otherwise want to forget. The other is anxious to win a final at home and gain entry to a competition they came within minutes of winning three long years ago.
On Wednesday night in Chicago, DC United continued their improbable run through the annual knockout competition with a 2-0 win over the Chicago Fire. Goals from Nick DeLeon and Dwayne DeRosario, backed up by a shutout pitched by the United defense, pushed Ben Olsen’s team into the final. The win was United’s fourth in the competition, a total one more than DC has earned in MLS play this season. It was their third Open Cup win over an MLS team, matching their league record in 2013.
That’s how bad the year has been, with just the Open Cup providing something to be joyous about for a proud franchise.
United was opportunistic, with DeRosario’s goal coming thanks to Sean Johnson spilling an easy catch just before halftime. Nick DeLeon doubled the lead after the break, converting a breakaway chance. Somehow, United managed to keep the red-hot Mike Magee off of the score sheet. A desperate Fire pushed forward in the final half hour but never found a goal. D.C. United did, on the road in the Open Cup, what they couldn’t do just a few weeks ago when Chicago throttled them 4-1.
Even a win last weekend over Montreal in MLS play doesn’t make United’s success in the Open Cup any less surprising.
The loss was the Fire’s first ever defeat at home in the U.S. Open Cup. Not only did D.C. United defy their League form by charging into the final, they did against a team known for lifting their play in the Cup, away from home. Rather than see their only real chance at a trophy this season go up in flames, United played their best in the biggest game of the season.
On the other side of the country, Real Salt Lake took care of business against MLS rival Portland in front of nearly 15,000 fans at Rio Tinto Stadium to reach the final. Alvaro Saborio opened the scoring for RSL, with Joao Plata putting in an insurance tally in the 78th minute. Portland outplayed RSL for much of the game, but Nick Rimando once again came up large for his team. The Timbers scored a late consolation goal but came up short with a berth in the final on the line.
For RSL, making the U.S. Open Cup final is not just about the chance to put silverware in the trophy case, but about booking their place in next year’s CONCACAF Champions League. The specter of missing out on the continental title back in 2010 still drives an organization that remains a leading light of Major League Soccer despite operating on a financial level below the richest teams in the League. RSL’s success comes down to intelligent use of resources. It makes sense that ethos would push Jason Kreis’s team towards the Open Cup, the first chance to qualify for the Champions League.
While RSL expects to contend in the Western Conference and will do everything they can to lift the MLS Cup come November, the U.S. Open Cup is clearly a priority. The club set a modern tournament semifinal round record with the 14,742 fans at Rio Tinto. The club no doubt expects a sell out for the final on October, which Real Salt Lake will host.
Remember, RSL benefited from a bit of luck to get to this point. New hosting assignment rules removed the closed bidding process that allowed teams like DC United to grab home field advantage throughout the tournament in years past, yet RSL did not have to leave Rio Tinto during this year’s competition. The coin flip came up their way each round, giving them all the more reason to take the tournament seriously.
This is the 100th edition of the U.S. Open Cup, a landmark worth celebrating. Though the two teams left standing are both top division clubs with all of the inherent advantages that implies, there’s still an element of magic to way it played out. On one side stands a team for whom the tournament and its trophy represents a way to salvage a disastrous season; on the other is a team tied for the points lead in MLS. The magic of the Cup brought us first versus last with a title on the line, reinforcing the notion that knockout tournaments like this are a much different animal than the grind of a long League season.
When teams line up in the Open Cup, records sometimes mean very little. When October arrives, and Rio Tinto is rocking, D.C. United will be decided underdogs to their Utahan hosts. Yet, it wouldn’t be shocking to see the underdogs continue their surprising run and pull out a victory. If it was a League match, no one would give them a chance. In the Cup, jumping to the same conclusion is not only dangerous, it ignores that there’s something else at work on the side of the United.
Real Salt Lake is the better team, of that there’s no doubt. That might not mean much in this, the centennial edition of America’s oldest soccer competition.
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