Major League Soccer's basement team, DC United, claimed the 100th US Open Cup with a 1-0 upset at Real Salt Lake. Lewis Neal scored the only goal to claim the trophy and a place in next season's Concacaf Champions League.
DC arrived in Utah with the odds stacked against them — in the MLS era, only three of the league's teams had won the Open Cup on the road. And D.C.'s 2013 road form hardly suggested they were going to buck the trend — they came into the game winless on their travels and with only six goals scored to 29 conceded. Asked the day before the game if they'd park the bus against a home side challenging for this year's Supporters Shield, Dwayne de Rosario insisted that, "No — it's a final."
Nonetheless some caution in the game plan would be understandable and for the first 45 minutes DC executed a countering strategy effectively, if not always prettily. There was a directness to their pressure and passing that hadn't been there for much of the season, while RSL were not allowed the space to get their usual mesmerizing passing game going.
RSL's best chances of the first half were a couple of Kyle Beckerman shots, neither of which unduly troubled Bill Hamid, the D.C. keeper restored after Joe Willis had minded the goal so far in their Cup run.
By the second of those Beckerman shots, Salt Lake were behind. John Thorrington, one of the smartest if one of the most injury-plagued players in the league, executed a little trickery down the left to whip a cross in, De Rosario made enough of a nuisance of himself that the ball fell loose, and Lewis Neal swept home.
The irony of Thorrington and Neal's involvement said much about D.C.'s season. The latter had been the intended back up for the former in midfield at the start of the season, only for injury to deny Ben Olsen both players. With the likes of Chris Pontius also featuring in the starting line up, this was as close to an ideal starting line up as Olsen had been able to field this season. And as they came off the field at half time with a 1-0 lead, they could reflect as much on what might have been this year, as on their disciplined first half performance.
RSL meanwhile left the field snarling — Beckerman picking up a yellow as he argued with the referee on the way to the tunnel.They only had themselves to blame after lacking urgency in the first half.
In the second half there was more urgency from the hosts — and a little more width. Ned Grabavoy was making little darts from deep and looking for telling balls behind, the build up play was faster if not crisper, and D.C. were beginning to look a little stretched. Worryingly for RSL though, their habit of earning then wasting dangerous set pieces continued, despite facing a side who've made defensive lapses on set pieces something of a specialty throughout the year.
D.C. were still dangerous looking on the counter — Nick DeLeon sprinting down the right to send one tempting low ball across goal just before the hour, though shortly afterwards Real had their best chance of the match when Velasquez got a nice deflection in the box and crashed a shot off the bar. By then Plata had been replaced by Garcia, as Jason Kreis looked to his vaunted squad depth to produce something.
Instead Salt Lake began to lose direction, and a degree of discipline, as private arguments and shoving matches broke out across the field. Stephenson came on for Velasquez with just over 20 minutes to go. Soon after Salt Lake had their first sustained pressure of the game as the ball pinged around the D.C. box before Borchers placed a header wide. In the melee Grabavoy and Riley clashed and there was a short delay, but immediately it was over RSL resumed their pressure — their passing game finally beginning to tell as D.C. tired. De Rosario was pulled out for Silva on 75 mins as United set themselves for an anticipated final siege.
It duly came. With 10 minutes left Hamid had to make the save of the game, blocking Saborio's goal bound shot at point blank range after the ball had been nudged to the striker on the edge of the six yard box, then Kreis made his final gambit, bringing off Salcedo for Devon Sandoval, the team's leading scorer in the competition.
With the extra man up front RSL pressed and D.C. creaked but held firm, getting kind bounces at times, but also keeping their discipline. RSL stuck to their guns as Beckerman and Morales patiently prodded for an opening right till the final minute of normal time. For a second it looked like they'd found one for Grabavoy, but the vital touch in front of goal wouldn't come.
RSL kept pressing, though by now route one was the preferred method as they peppered the D.C. box in the six minutes of time added on. Deep into stoppage time RSL had one last chance from a corner. Rimando, lucky to still be on the field after a professional foul moments earlier, came up into the box, and a Saborio header bounced down and off the bar. It was that sort of night for Salt Lake, who now, after Western Conference final defeats in 2008 and Champions League heartbreak in 2011, once again had to endure the sight Kreis had feared the day before — "another team parading a trophy on our field."
One hundred years ago, a man called A.R. Jones traveled from Utah to New York to attend the meeting that would found the USA Foot Ball Association (the ancestor of the current US Soccer Federation). He was the furthest flung delegate to a meeting dominated by North Eastern delegates, as the organization that would in short order found the US Open Cup was born. A century later and it was the East's turn to come West, as D.C. United traveled to Sandy, Utah to play in the 100th Open Cup final.
Sadly for the 17608 spiritual descendants of A.R. Jones who attended the first US Open Cup final to take place in Utah, it ended in victory for the spiritual descendants of Wigan, as MLS's basement team won 1-0 to cap the most unlikely of runs and save their troubled year.