I have bene fortunate enough to meet many of the top players and coaches in Major League Soccer. The nicest person I have met is D.C. United’s Ben Olsen. He has endured three really tough seasons in charge of D.C. United, but he wakes up this morning as US Open Cup champion.
Real Salt Lake were heavily favored to win the 100th US Open Cup in their fortress at Rio Tinto Stadium, but Lewis Neal’s 45th-minute strike was enough to seal victory and send United into the 2013-14 CONCACAF Champions League
Real Salt Lake fans will be wondering how they lost this game. They have close to 70% possession, and outshot D.C. 18-6, but they could not find a way past D.C. goalkeeper Bill Hamid.
The goal came right before the halftime whistle. John Thorrington’s run took him into the RSL penalty box where his shot deflected off RSL defender Carlos Salcedo and bounced straight to Neal near the penalty spot, and the English midfielder quickly slotted it past a diving Nick Rimando.
The goal would hold up, but not for lack of trying by Real Salt Lake. The Claret-and-Cobalt had nearly constant possession in D.C.’s end of the field in the second half, but just couldn’t quite find the equalizer.
With their only road victories in 2013 coming in Open Cup play, it would have been understandable for Olsen and his team to be a bit surprised to come out a victor at one of the tougher places to play in MLS. But the coach knew his team would treat the final, and the Cup run as a whole, with a kind of fire they haven’t shown much of during the regular season.
“We took the Open Cup extremely seriously from the first game,” Olsen said. “Each game, our belief in the Open Cup grew. The size of the game helped us focus. Some of the guys who have a tough time focusing when it doesn’t matter really did what they needed to do.”
That focus paid off Tuesday night, and now the team can focus on what suddenly becomes a much less gloomy future. D.C.’s win secures a berth in the 2014-15 edition of the CONCACAF Champions League and gives them a champion’s prize of $250,000 that can be used to bolster a squad that has collected a mere 15 points in league play.
“If we [had lost] this one, it’s back to the drawing board,” Olsen said. “Now we have a new energy about us to finish the season in the right way and look forward.”