DC Shocks RSL to Win 2013 U.S. Open Cup

Victory gives organization something to celebrate during difficult season
by Peter Muller   |   Wednesday, October 02, 2013

United Capitol – column on DC United (DCU) & the Washington DC/DMV area soccer scene.

SANDY, Utah – D.C. United overcame a season of frustration and failure to stun Real Salt Lake in a tense and physical game Tuesday night and win the 2013 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup at Rio Tinto Stadium.

The victory completed an unlikely run in which United, the worst team in Major League Soccer, somehow put together a successful Cup campaign that culminated in the club’s 13th major trophy, $250,000 in prize money for the players and a spot in the 2014-2015 CONCACAF Champions League.

Lewis Neal’s goal in the final minutes of the 1st half accounted for the only score of the match and United’s tenacious defense withstood Salt Lake’s dominance in possession and a furious final few minutes to secure the victory.

“We’ve managed to find focus in this Open Cup and come away with something - even in a season of turmoil - with a trophy,” DCU Manager Ben Olsen told MLSsoccer.com after the game.  “I credit those guys, I credit the organization, I credit our fans, and ownership.  We didn’t let the wheels fall off.  You see that when teams go through this.  We hung in there and we found a way to turn it into a positive. “

With their MLS post-season hopes long since expired, D.C. had been focused on this match for weeks and Olsen rested his entire starting lineup Saturday in Toronto so he would have his top players available to face RSL.

He went with a defensive-minded lineup, choosing Neal to start in midfield over the more dynamic Luis Silva with the hope of disrupting Salt Lake’s offensive flow.

If the goal was to let Salt Lake see more of the bill while D.C. absorbed pressure and looked to take advantage of rare scoring opportunities, the plan worked to perfection.

Salt Lake set an aggressive tone early, earning a free kick and a corner kick in the opening moments.  And throughout the match the home side completed more than twice as many passes as D.C, controlled 70% of possession and spent much of the game on United’s end of the field.

But the United defense held strong, with centerbacks Dejan Jakovic and Ethan White breaking up play after play and goalkeeper Bill Hamid making a number of key saves.

Meanwhile, John Thorrington took charge of United’s midfield.  The veteran serves as Olsen’s main conduit on the field, brining necessary leadership to a young squad.

Whether it was partnering with Perry Kitchen to thwart RSL’s attacking trio of Javier Morales, Alvaro Saborio and Joao Plata, or setting United up to go forward, Thorrington had a major impact on the match.

But in the 45th minute, it was Neal who made the decisive strike.

The midfielder had endured a difficult season, appearing in just 6 games due to injuries.  He is not a potent offensive threat, but when he does score he tends to make it count.

Last October, his goal at RFK Stadium put the finishing touch on United’s victory over the Columbus Crew to secure their spot in the MLS playoffs.

And on Tuesday he took a deflection from a cross by Thorrington and one-timed a left footed shot into the corner of the net for the score.

“It was just a case of holding back a bit and hoping something drops at the edge of the box,” said Neal.  “Luckily it deflected off and it bounced there.  I was able to pounce on it and hit down low and hard into the corner and thankfully it went in.”

The goal deflated the crowd of 17,608 and sent United into halftime with momentum.

Salt Lake pushed numbers forward in the 2nd half but were never able to break through United’s defenses.

The home side appeared timid around the goal.  They often seemed to take one touch too many before attempting a shot, giving D.C. just enough time to get a foot in the way or knock the shooter off the ball.

In the end, it was another missed opportunity for Real Salt Lake – which has now failed 3 times to win championship matches on their home field.

"It is something I can't really put my finger on," RSL manager Jason Kreis said. "How we can get so close and how we can have so much momentum through the majority of the season and we get to get to a game like this and we can't seem to put things together. We can't seem to get over that last hurdle."

D.C. United hasn’t been able to put things together during the 2013 MLS campaign.  But for one night in Sandy, Utah, they got to forget about their struggles and celebrate an unlikely title.

NEXT UP: October 4 - DC United vs. Chicago Fire, RFK Stadium, Washington, D.C. 8 p.m. ET, NBC Sports Network.


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Peter is a government relations professional in Washington, DC, and Los Angeles, CA. He has been a DC United season ticket holder since 1997 and has attended every MLS Cup except one – in 1998 when he was busy helping his boss get re-elected to Congress.