By IVES GALARCEP
The 100th anniversary of the U.S. Open Cup isn’t getting nearly as much attention as it deserves, but the four teams doing battle tonight for a place in the final will look to do their part to bring more buzz for a historic competition that has stood the test of time.
In one corner, you have long-time MLS Eastern Conference rivals D.C. United and the Chicago Fire squaring off in a clash of teams with storied histories in the U.S. Open Cup (8:30pm, chicago-fire.com). D.C. United has won the tournament twice (1996 and 2008) and reached the final four times. In the midst of a nightmare season in league place, D.C. will trot out a young team hoping to add some silverware to a D.C. trophy case that is full but in need of a new addition after several years without one.
The Chicago Fire remain the most successful MLS team in U.S. Open Cup history, having won the competition four times (1998, 2000, 2003 and 2006) while losing in two finals (2004 and 2011). The Fire have also gone several years without a trophy, and can move a step closer to one with a win at home at Toyota Park in a semifinal they will be heavily favored in.
In the other U.S. Open Cup semifinal, we have two teams vying to make their first trip to the U.S. Open Cup Final. Real Salt Lake and the Portland Timbers are among the league leaders in MLS play, and feature two of the most highly-regarded young coaches in American Soccer. Caleb Porter and Jason Kreis are likely to see a lot of each other in the coming years, and tonight’s Open Cup semifinal (9:30pm, USSoccer.com) should offer an intense first chapter of their coaching rivalry.
Here is a closer look at both of tonight’s U.S. Open Cup semifinals:
RSL, TIMBERS AIM FOR FIRST OPEN CUP FINAL TRIP
By MIKE DONOVAN
In the 100th edition of the US Open Cup, two MLS clubs will each be making their debuts in the semifinal round of the competition.
When the Portland Timbers take on Real Salt Lake Wednesday night at Rio Tinto Stadium, the teams will be fighting for not only a chance at winning the Cup for the first time, but also the right to host the Final. Wednesday will also mark the first time the two Western Conference foes will have met in 2013.
In league-play, RSL currently sits at the top of the Western Conference standings, three points clear of the Portland Timbers. Wednesday will also mark the return of Tony Beltran as the American International will be suiting up for RSL for the first time since June 29 after a suspension and playing for the U.S. in the Gold Cup. RSL will also have Chris Wingert back after he missed the last two league matches due to suspension.
The match marks the first time Timbers captain Will Johnson will take on his former club. Johnson spent the previous five seasons with RSL, notching nine goals in 114 league games. The MLS all-star is enjoying his best professional season with six goals and three assists in league play.
Portland and RSL have traveled different paths to the semifinals. Portland’s last match was a road victory over league foe FC Dallas, while RSL easily dispatched the NASL’s Carolina Railhawks at home. The Timbers will be the first MLS opponent that RSL has played in this year’s competition. RSL has been able to make the most of its opportunity, as they have scored a tournament-best 11 goals. Portland has the second-most with ten.
History certainly seems to favor RSL as the Timbers are looking to become just the fourth visiting team to win a USOC Semifinal since 2011. Portland is also looking to become just the second MLS team ever to go on the road in the USOC semifinals and beat a MLS opponent that was above them in the standings.
The only club that has ever turned that feat was the 2000 Miami Fusion, who defeated the MetroStars 3-2. Current RSL goalkeeper Nick Rimando started for Miami, while Adolfo Valencia, father of current Timber Jose Adolfo Valencia, scored for the MetroStars.
If Portland is to make history, they might need for Frederic Piquionne to continue his USOC dominance. Piquionne is currently the leading goalscorer in the competition, but was forced from Saturday’s match with an injury. The Martinique International joins Diego Chara as Timbers with injury concerns. Chara has been suffering a turf toe injury, but was held out of the Vancouver match in the hope that he could see the field against RSL.
RSL has injury concerns of their own, as Javier Morales was pulled from Saturday’s Rocky Mountain Cup match with Colorado in the 24th minute with an adductor injury. RSL manager Jason Kreis said Morales was removed early in the hopes that he can play Wednesday. RSL will be without defender Brandon McDonald, as he is cup-tied, having played for D.C. United earlier in the competition.
If Real Salt Lake wins, they will take on either the Chicago Fire or D.C. United at Rio Tinto Stadium on October 1st in the final. A Portland victory would send the final to Jeld-Wen Field on September 24th.
Portland and Real Salt Lake will also see each other three more times in league play with their first rematch taking place on August 21st in Portland.
D.C. AIMS FOR UPSET AS FIRE SEEK 7TH FINAL
By PABLO MAURER
Two familiar foes face off at Toyota Park tonight as both D.C. United and the Chicago Fire look to move closer to ending trophy droughts.
D.C. United enter tonight’s U.S. Open Cup semifinal match riding a bit of an unexpected high. After a rather dominant performance in their 3-1 drubbing of Montreal this past weekend, the black and red enter this semi-final matchup as close to confident as a last place team can be. D.C. head coach Ben Olsen couldn’t have been happier with the result, as it allowed him to build a bit of chemistry among some of the club’s newer acquisitions while managing minutes for some of the team’s regular starters – Nick Deleon, Luis Silva and Dwayne De Rosario were all subbed with time to spare in the second half.
After an early scare in the round of 32 – D.C. United needed PK’s to dispose of the third-division Richmond Kickers – United has rolled in Open Cup competition, posting a pair of convincing 3-1 victories over New England and Philadelphia.
The Open Cup, often an afterthought to many MLS sides, has become a focal point for D.C. United, who see the 100-year-old competition as a chance to salvage something from an already lost season.
“We look at the Open Cup as a chance to get some W’s and to get some happiness back into our lives,” goalkeeper Joe Willis told the media assembled at Tuesday’s training session. “Our team has played unbelievably well in the Open Cup. We’re taking it very seriously. I think that’s shown. That’s why we’re in the Semis.” Willis himself has played a key part in United’s Open Cup run – normally the club’s backup, Olsen made it clear on Saturday evening that the second-stringer will remain in goal for the remainder of the tournament.
“Joe got us into the Open Cup semifinals and I’m going to play him on Wednesday,” Olsen said. “I’ll tell you right now. It has nothing to do against Bill and the faith that we have in him. I wanted to get Joe one more game going into Wednesday.”
Chicago, on the other hand, has plenty of cause for optimism entering tonight’s match. They’ve fared well in league play since picking up Mike Magee in May, finally finding the rhythm that so many pundits had expected them to enter the season with. Though their July results have been a mixed bag – the Fire currently find themselves on the outside looking in, playoff-wise – they haven’t been thoroughly out-classed in any particular match.
The Fire also have a recent match-up with D.C. fresh in their memories, only needing to travel back a couple of weeks to remember their 4-1 throttling of their semi-final opponents. In a season of bad losses, some would argue it was United’s worst.
The D.C. United team Chicago will be facing tonight has a much different look. After incorporating Conor Doyle, Jared Jeffrey and Luis Silva into the attack, and regaining Dwayne De Rosario, the black and red will likely be a much stiffer test for the Fire this go-around, something Chris Rolfe is well aware of:
“We both take the tournament very seriously,” Rolfe told the club’s website earlier in the week. “It’s a big opportunity for them to have a successful season. I think they are going to come full throttle at us.”