[U.S. OPEN CUP]Cup competitions are supposed to be all about upsets, and the 100th U.S. Open Cup final produced a doozy.
The worst team in MLS, D.C. United, beat one of the league’s elite, Real Salt Lake, on the latter’s home field Tuesday night, 1-0. Midfielder Lewis Neal, whose crucial goal last year earned United a playoff spot, struck just before halftime to silence a noisy crowd at Rio Tinto Stadium and eventually etch another bleak entry into RSL’s history in big games.
“You scratch your head,” RSL coachJason Kreis told The Salt Lake Tribune. “We did everything necessary to get to the point where we should have goalscoring chances and we just seem like every single time … it just wasn’t going to happen.”
By winning, United claims one of four U.S. spots in the 2014-15 Concacaf Champions League, which starts up next summer, despite a record of three wins in 30 MLS games (one less win than in its Open Cup campaign).
RSL can still qualify for that edition of the CCL by other means, but an Open Cup trophy is the most direct route and had been cited by Kreis as one of the team’s top priorities this season.
One-zero defeats at Rio Tinto in the second leg of the 2010-11 Concacaf Champions League final and the 2008 and 2012 MLS playoffs had darkened expectations among RSL fans, yet with the homefield advantage and staggering edge in points during the regular season, 51-15, as well as every other metric, this game seemed RSL’s to lose. Which it did.
A spirited United effort posted a rare shutout with a defensive grittiness marshaled by centerback Dejan Jakovic that blunted its superior foe and exploited the best chance it created.
United’s John Thorrington skated past right back Tony Beltran to drive a cross toward Dwayne De Rosariothat was clumsily cleared by Carlos Salcedo right to Neal, whose stinging left-footed shot from about 12 yards out whistled past keeper Nick Rimando inside the far post. RSL didn’t crumble under that crushing psychological blow yet lacked the fine edge to get the goal it chased for most of the second half.
RSL, which finished with a 19-6 advantage in shots and 69.4-30.6 percent edge in possession, did run into some bad luck, with two of its shots clanging off the woodwork. But there were squandered opportunities, too, such as striker Alvaro Saborio’s point-blank chance in the 81th minute that keeper Bill Hamid deflected. In the final minutes Hamid snagged a Devon Sandovalbicycle kick and escaped again when a Saborio header bounced off the crossbar.
“You’re just left searching for answers a little bit,” midfielder Ned Grabavoy, who misfired on a good chance in the 71st minute, told the Salt Lake Tribune. “You can’t find the words.”
United won its third Open Cup, adding to triumphs in 1996 and 2008. RSL was playing in its first final after reaching the quarterfinals twice, in 2006 and 2011. It's won just three league, but D.C. won five in a row – four against MLS opposition – to capture the cup.
“It’s been a lot of ups and downs this season, it’s been a very emotional year for all of us,” Hamid said. “We were underdogs, nobody expected us to win this game, but we just came in and won it at RSL -- a difficult place to play, a great team that possibly plays the best football in the league. We believe now. Now we know.”