The Last Word On D.C. United's Improbable U.S. Open Cup Win

Jim Urquhart-USA TODAY Sports

The story of a successful underdog or the best example of trolling in U.S. Soccer history? Regardless of what you call it, D.C. United made history on Tuesday night.

This season has been filled with disappoints for D.C. United. The team that entered 2013 as one of the Eastern Conference's favorites has fallen flat on its face over and over again. What you saw last night though was totally different. A different team. One full of confidence, for no logical reason.

No offense intended to Real Salt Lake, a team that's built a great organization from scratch and plays the beautiful game in a beautiful way, but some teams just know how to win trophies. I'm so glad that I support one that does.

Their Words

- Pablo Maurer (DCist): "Facing an RSL side that sits atop the Western Conference, D.C. executed their game plan to perfection. It was a classic rope-a-dope. United surrendered 70 percent of possession, yet simultaneously managed to frustrate RSL, forcing them to the wings and disrupting their play through midfield. The black and red only needed one chance, and they got it just before halftime."

- Lewis Neal (dcunited.com): "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."

- Keith Hickey (Goal.com): "RSL narrowly escaped total disaster in stoppage time when Nick Rimando was strangely shown only a yellow card for impeding Conor Doyle as the last man. Despite the lack of ejection, Salt Lake could not find an equalizer, with Hamid's close range save on Sandoval and James Riley's block on Saborio's late header from a corner the home side's closest efforts in the closing minutes."

- Steve Davis (Pro Soccer Talk): "Relentless, determined, committed pressure from D.C. United meant more Tuesday over 90 minutes than the yawning and telling 36-point gap between the teams in Major League Soccer’s standings. Yes, 36 points. United has just three wins in league play all year"

- Ben Olsen (dcunited.com): "I think that we’ve done a good job this year of sticking together. The wheels never fell off and there were a lot of times when they could’ve when you go through this much turmoil within the league. It’s tough to stay together but they did that—the fans didn’t turn us off, and the organization supported us. And now we’ve found a way to get something positive out of a really tough season."

- Stephen Goff (Washington Post): "Players doused Ben Olsen with a barrel of energy drink and tossed investor Will Chang into the air. They danced and hugged. They saluted their fans in the upper deck, and when the group of 50 or more made its way to the lower level, the players embraced them. In the locker room, during a raucous celebration around the prized hardware, John Thorrington executed two belly slides across tarp-covered floors glazed in Bud Light. United, highly decorated over its history but in the dumps all year, was happy again. Among the carry-on baggage aboard Delta flight 2356 from SLC to BWI on Wednesday will be the Open Cup trophy, the club’s 13th honor in 18 seasons."

My Words

- My initial reaction to seeing Olsen's lineup suggestion was that of confusion. I think it was for all of us. Three central midfielders? No Luis Silva? But upon further reflection, I realized that the strategy Olsen was employing with this lineup was a strategy that we haven't really seen United utilize since April, and it just happens to be the same strategy that helped them achieve a 9-game unbeaten streak at the end of 2012. What we've been doing for the past 6 months hasn't been working, so it was time to try something different. This was it. The strategy wasn't one of attractive soccer, or even necessarily getting our best 11 players on the field. United's strategy was very specifically to spend a good deal of the match defending, to bend and not break, to counterattack when available, to survive the first half scoreless and then try to grab a late goal. Last year, that goal would have been scored by Hamdi Salihi or Maicon Santos. It would have been assisted by Branko Boskovic or Andy Najar. This year, those guys are all gone. This year it was LEWIS NEAL.

- My confidence rested around 10% in the days and weeks leading up to the match. Playing on the road with no momentum against one of the most talented teams in the league, D.C. United shouldn't have had much of a chance. When I saw that lineup though, my confidence skyrocketed up to around 50%. No kidding. This is a proven formula for success and its a formula that Olsen probably abandoned too early in the regular season.

- The pressure that we saw United exhibit on Tuesday night was impressively relentless. Any time Real Salt Lake crossed the center line, and sometimes sooner, they were challenged. Every cross was contested. Every loose ball in our box was knocked away. Every RSL header came at the price of a collision with a brick wall named Ethan White. Every shot was forced to come either from long distance or from a difficult angle. Bill Hamid was a monster and deserves lots of credit, but every member of this team fought and defended for 90 minutes.

- I'm so freakin happy for these players and this staff. Regardless of where they sit in the MLS standings, no one can take that trophy away. Even if United had conceded two late goals to lose the match, I would've been so damn proud of them anyway. Glad it didn't come to that.

- Sometimes I put things in my pants pocket and sometimes I put things in my shirt pocket. Sometimes I forget which things I put in my pants pocket and which things I put in my shirt pocket, so I wind up taking the wrong things out of the wrong pockets. Upon seeing which card was presented to Nick Rimando, I can only assume that the referee has the same problem.

The Last Word

There's been lots of talk about this game saving Olsen's job. Did it? In my mind, yes. I've been saying since before the quarterfinals that Olsen should be fired within a week of United being eliminated from Open Cup, no matter what round it happened it. Well, we never lost.

Suddenly 2013 is a happy story. Had United lost, we wouldn't have remembered this season for ALMOST winning the Open Cup. It would've been just like 2010, the year we usually avoid mentioning at all costs. But now we'll remember this year a bit differently. We'll remember it for the incredible underdog story of this Cup run.

At least I will. Will you?

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