By TYLER GRAY
SANDY, Utah – D.C. United weren’t given much of a chance to win Tuesday’s U.S. Open Cup final against Real Salt Lake, but on a night when heavily-favored RSL once again struggled to score a goal in a final at home, D.C. took home its 13th franchise trophy.
The visitors could not have executed their game plan any better.
United bunkered for the first 45 minutes and waited for their opportunity. It came just before the halftime whistle when a deflected cross fell into the path of Lewis Neal and he buried it. Real Salt Lake was unable to answer in the second half and the score remained 1-0 as D.C. United were crowned the U.S. Open Cup champions.
The game started out with plenty of excitement as the crowd got loud from the opening kick. It was evident very early on that D.C.’s plan was to park everybody in defense and force RSL to open them up.
RSL spent 45 minutes trying to unlock the visitor’s defense and only succeeded in one shot on goal, a long-range effort from midfielder Kyle Beckerman that never troubled Bill Hamid.
“We knew [Hamid] would to be spectacular today to get out of here with a win,” said DC United head coach Ben Olsen. “We knew that our back four would have to be pretty impressive as well. It was a group effort. Everyone made their plays that counted and that’s what we needed.”
In the 45th minute everything changed when United player John Thorrington sent a cross into the box that deflected and dropped into the area of Neal, who ran onto it and buried it low and hard into the back post, completing the dream scenario for a United team that has experienced a season to forget.
“It was unbelievable,” said Neal. “It was a good piece of play from John Thorrington down the left. I saw him crossing and I made my run into the box and hoped that the ball would drop somewhere or bounce so I could get the shot off. Thankfully it didn’t just bounce and it fell to me. I got onto it quick and hit it hard and low and thankfully it went in. It was a great feeling.”
In the second half, RSL turned the pressure up and, despite an obscene amount of possession, was unable to truly threaten the visitors’ goal. The best opportunity of the night came in the very last minute of the game, on the very last corner kick attempted by Real Salt Lake.
Morales sent the ball into the box and Saborio found himself with a chance on the ball. He headed the ball cleanly towards the goal but it was saved off the line, floated high into the air, and bounced harmlessly off the crossbar where Hamid collected it.
RSL hit the woodwork twice, with Sebastian Velasquez providing the other near-goal in the 59th minute when his tight-angle shot rebounded off the crossbar.
“It was a long 15… 20… 90 minutes,” said Olsen. “The onslaught was most of the second half. They were coming in waves and you can’t fall asleep for a second. I think that the size of the game helped us focus. Some of the guys have trouble focusing in a league game if it doesn’t mean something. They really took every play and did what they needed to do.”
There were plenty of questionable decisions by referee Juan Guzman, including a yellow card issued to Nick Rimando in stoppage-time after he very obviously cleared out the last man on a break. But you won’t hear any complaining from United, who erupted into cheers when the final whistle blew.
United deserves to be commended on a night when they executed their gameplan to perfection and were clinical with their passing. They played tight, solid, and oppressive defense, refusing to simply sit back, but pressure the ball as well all night long.
United won their third U.S. Open Cup in franchise history and possibly redeemed a season that had gone off the rails early on.
Here are the game highlights: