DC United did what few thought they could do: put their regular season disaster behind them, travel to Utah and upset Real Salt Lake in the 100th edition of the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup.
Lewis Neal’s goal just before halftime — the team’s only shot on goal in the game — was all they needed as United won their third US Open Cup title, 1-0 over RSL. With the win, DC United completes a Cinderella story the likes of which the tournament has not seen since MLS joined the competition in 1996. DC becomes the first Open Cup champion to lift the trophy with more cup wins (4) than league wins (3). Not to mention, they become the only Modern Pro Era team to win a title with only one shot on goal.
Bill Hamid, making his first start of the competition after Joe Willis had played the previous four games, made four saves and shut out Major League Soccer’s top offense.
In a tournament that was modeled after England’s FA Cup 100 years ago, this year’s champion was modeled after England’s winner this year. Last spring, Wigan Athletic, sitting near the bottom of the Premier League standings, pulled off one off the biggest upsets in tournament history, defeating powerhouse Manchester City 1-0 to lift the trophy.
The difference between Wigan and DC United is that the black-and-red have hope for next season as Neal’s 45th minute goal earns the club $250,000 in prize money and a spot in the 2014/15 CONCACAF Champions League. Wigan earned their prize money, but they were relegated at the end of their league season.
United joins the Seattle Sounders (2009-11) and the New York Pancyprian Freedoms (1980, 1982-83) as the only three-time champions.
The opening half was relatively uneventful as the visitors were careful not to let RSL, behind their announced crowd of 17,608, to get their offensive machine rolling. The first chance of the game came after 27 minutes when Joao Plate received a pass down the right side of the box and launched his attempt on goal several rows deep into the crowd.
About 10 minutes later, Javier Morales nearly helped create a goal himself as he fought off two defenders on the right wing, found space and sent a dangerous cross into the box where it took a deflection and was eventually cleared to safety.
It appeared as though both teams were going to go into the locker room with a scoreless draw, but John Thorrington controlled the ball on the left wing, faked to his right and created space to his left to send in a cross. The ball was deflected off a player in front of the goal and rolled back out to the top of the box for Lewis Neal who hit a well-placed ball that beat a diving Nick Rimando to his left. It was a shot of redemption for Neal who didn’t make the cut while on trial with Real Salt Lake in 2012.
In the second half, RSL cranked up the pressure looking for an equalizer.
In the 50th minute, Morales ran on to a through ball down the heart of the box, but Dejan Jakovic was there to deliver a tough tackle to clear away the danger. A couple of minutes later, Ned Grabavoy received the ball on the left side of the box but his shot on target was smothered by Hamid.
In the 59th minute, the home team finally got one past Hamid. Sebastian Velasquez dribbled into the box on the left side and launched a left-footed blast that beat Hamid, but struck the crossbar. The pressure continued throughout the second half, but DC’s backline held on. In the 81st minute, Grabavoy sent a header into the penalty area which fell to Saborio behind the defense, but his volley attempt sailed high over the bar.
The kitchen sink was being thrown forward by RSL as stoppage time approached. In the 90th minute, Kyle Beckerman played a ball in to Devon Sandoval who delivered a one-touch to Grabavoy as he was headed toward goal, but the ball was knocked away before he could get a shot off.
Seconds later, a long ball from midfield was headed into the box where a United defender got to it first, but his attempted clearance went straight up in the air, sending Hamid into action. He leaped into the crowd of players to punch it away and did just enough to clear it from danger as RSL’s attempts to send it back into the mixer failed and DC was able to turn the near goal into a counter attack. The ball fell out of the penalty area and was launched upfield to a wide open Conor Doyle, who found himself one-on-one with Rimando positioned more than 20 yards outside his penalty area. Rimando’s take down of Doyle produced cries for a red card, but the veteran goalkeeper only received a yellow.
RSL used every bit of the announced six minutes of stoppage time, creating two heart-stopping moments for the home fans dreaming of a dramatic goal to force extra time. First, after a ball was sent into the box, it fell to Nat Borchers on the right side of the area and the defender chipped into the middle of the box where Sandoval attempted an overhead kick that went straight at Hamid positioned in the middle of the goal.
Moments later, in their final attempt to draw level, Beckerman’s corner kick found Saborio who headed the ball on goal after making a run down the middle of the box. There to save the day, whether he did it on purpose or not, was James Riley, who deflected Saborio’s header off the crossbar and Hamid came off his line to jump on the loose ball to secure the win.
For Riley, his deflection in front of goal clinched his fifth US Open Cup title, more than any individual player in the Modern Professional Era (1995-present). Riley won the tournament with New England in 2007, followed by three straight with Seattle from 2009-11. With a fifth title, Riley is more than halfway toward the all-time record of eight held by Hall of Famer Billy Gonsalves.
DC – Lewis Neal – 45’
DC – James Riley (Yellow, Foul) – 21’
RSL – Kyle Beckerman (Yellow, Dissent) – 46’
DC – Nick DeLeon (Yellow, Dissent) – 58’
DC – Chris Korb (Yellow, Dissent) – 80’
RSL – Nick Rimando (Yellow, Foul) – 90’ + 1’
Real Salt Lake (4-1-2-1-2): Nick Rimando, Chris Wingert, Nat Borchers, Carlos Salcedo (Devon Sandoval, 81’), Tony Beltran, Kyle Beckerman, Ned Grabavoy, Sebastian Velasquez (Khari Stephenson, 69’), Javier Morales, Joao Plata (Olmes Garcia, 57’), Alvaro Saborio
Substitutes not used: Jeff Attinella, Chris Schuler, Yordany Alvarez, Cole Grossman
D.C. United (4-4-2): Bill Hamid, James Riley, Dejan Jakovic, Ethan White, Chris Korb, Perry Kitchen, Lewis Neal, Chris Pontius (Conor Doyle, 87’), John Thorrington, Nick DeLeon, Dwayne de Rosario (Luis Silva, 75’)
Substitutes not used: Joe WIllis, Dennis Iapichino, Kyle Porter, Daniel Woolard, Jared Jeffrey
Referee: Juan Guzman
Assistant Referees: Kermit Quisenberry, Fabio Tovar
4th Official: Baldomero Toledo
Weather: Clear and 66 degrees