In Wednesday's first semifinal of the 100th US Open Cup, we learned what happens when a home team (Chicago Fire) who had gone 6-2-3 (21 points, 1.91 pts/game) in the eleven league matches since it had triumphantly acquired a hometown hero (Mike Magee) plays a road team (D.C. United) that had gone 2-7-2 (8 points, 0.73 pts/game) over that stretch, including a loss by United in the same stadium 1-4 only two and a half weeks prior. Throw in the fact that Chicago had a record of 21-0-1 in Open Cup matches in the state of Illinois, while D.C. United was winless away from home for the entire 2013 MLS regular season with a road record of 0-7-3, and there was no reason to expect the good guys to leave Chicago with a 2-0 win and a place booked in the US Open Cup final. Yet that's just what they did, and it wasn't a fluke.
- Ives Galarcep: "It is hard to argue the fact that the 2013 MLS season has been a nightmare for D.C. United, but their dream run through the U.S. Open Cup has provided a much-needed consolation for the floundering club. D.C. was expected to see that run end on Wednesday night at Toyota Park against a surging Chicago Fire side playing at home, but Ben Olsen's side went away from the expected script yet again. Goals from Dwayne DeRosario and Nick DeLeon, coupled with some strong defending, helped D.C. earn a 2-0 victory over the Fire to secure their place in the 2013 U.S. Open Cup Final. They will face Real Salt Lake in the final on [Oct. 1st] at Rio Tinto Stadium after RSL's 2-1 victory over the Portland Timbers on Wednesday night."
- Adam Taylor: "WE'RE GOING TO A MOTHERLOVING CUP FINAL WHILE PLAYING THE BEST SOCCER WE'VE SEEN ALL YEAR. In spite of all the crap we've seen from our boys in black this year, you can't beat that with a stick. Something something Wigan something something."
- Anthony Zilis, via mlssoccer.com: "D.C. United may not have much to play for during the final months of the MLS regular season, but after upending the Chicago Fire 2-0 on Wednesday at Toyota Park, they're one win from taking home their third US Open Cup trophy."
There's no doubt that Chicago coach Frank Klopas must have been preaching to his team that D.C. United wasn't the same team the Fire demolished 4-1 back on Jul. 20. It appears, however, that either the message wasn't received by his team or D.C. United was even better than the Fire feared since the Black-and-Red truly earned its 2-0 win on Wednesday night. Either way, while United wasn't perfect on the night, they outplayed the Fire, handily won the possession battle 55.8% to 44.2%, and were the more dangerous team until a late (but futile) push by Chicago.
That the magnitude of this win is so obvious doesn't make it any less significant. Not only was this the semifinal of a knockout tournament to crown the champion of all US soccer teams, but it also was D.C. United's first road win of the year against a MLS side. Somehow, despite all odds and the rapid player turnover the team has witnessed over the last month, Ben Olsen had his team ready to seize the moment. The team and organization are to be congratulated for this achievement when they could have completely packed it in months ago. There will continue to be debates about what went wrong during the 2013 MLS regular season and who is accountable, but for now, it's fun to be a fan again.
The Last Word:
As a D.C. United fan, it was great to watch the team step up during its most important game of the season and play one of its best games. Overall, this team played like we hoped they would at the beginning of the season: they were selfless, they attacked, and they played to win. Star players scored (Dwayne De Rosario and Nick DeLeon) or set up goals (Luis Silva), the defense performed as a unit, the team wasn't afraid to get forward (James Riley), cornerstone players were consistently reliable (Perry Kitchen and John Thorrington), players made heroic recoveries for themselves or their teammates (Dejan Jakovic and Kyle Porter), subs were dangerous (Conor Doyle) or a welcome sight (Chris Pontius), and Joe Willis was big in spots and lucky in others.
Perhaps most enjoyable was the memory that winning big games begets even bigger games. Because they took care of business in the semifinal, D.C. United will now play what truly will be their biggest game of the season on Oct. 1, when they take on Real Salt Lake in Sandy, Utah, in the 100th US Open Cup final. Between now and then, Ben Olsen and Co. will play eight MLS league matches, two at home and six on the road. They will have plenty of practice to hone their road skills before facing RSL, one of the few teams that will actually be out for revenge against D.C. United this year. And, because these next eight games will be in preparation for the USOC final, they will be big games too.
Thanks to an unexpected Open Cup run by the Boys-who-one-day-will-be-from-Buzzard-Point, the season's not over yet, a trophy is still attainable, hope has returned, and the narrative of the season has changed.
How does reaching the USOC finals change your view of the 2013 season? What should the team focus on the next eight games?