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Direct from Sandy

A Tale of Two Seasons at U.S. Open Cup Final

Jon Arnold reports from the final of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, which is just another game for Real Salt Lake but the entire year for D.C. United. So that's fun. Your preview awaits.
BY Jon Arnold Posted
October 01, 2013
11:45 AM
SANDY, Utah—One team has been focusing on the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup final for a month, while the other only recently turned its attention to the game, but D.C. United and Real Salt Lake both insist they're treating Tuesday's match with the gravitas a cup final deserves.

Ben Olsen's D.C. United team made a surprise run to the conference finals last season, but the only surprise this year is how abysmal they've been. The one-off final provides United a chance to take something from this season after being irrelevant for months in MLS play.

"You see it all around the world, right?" Olsen said after training Monday. "A team struggling in the league and not doing well and then a change of pace, a change of venue, a change of competition gives you a new lease on life."

But having so much time to ruminate on Real Salt Lake could actually work against his club, the D.C. manager said: "It's easy to over-prepare for a team when you know you're going against them for months," Olsen said. "We've tried to give them as much information as possible and give them the right game plan, but it's soccer. You go out there, and hopefully you make some plays."

There's pressure on Olsen's opposing number, too. Jason Kreis has done an excellent job managing Real Salt Lake, so much so that he's reportedly the top candidate to be incoming MLS club NYCFC's first coach. But while he helped put a MLS Cup in Real Salt Lake's trophy cabinet, he still feels the sting of losing multiple finals at home.

Real Salt Lake dropped a Western Conference Final to the New York Red Bulls in 2008 and missed out on a chance to win the CONCACAF Champions League in 2011 with a loss to Monterrey.

"We cannot walk into this game assuming that we're going to be walking out with a trophy," Kreis said. "Otherwise, we'll get the exact same result we did the last two times, and that's watching somebody else celebrate with a trophy on our field."

To avoid that, his team will have to respect United, even if their visitor has only managed 15 points so far this season and has won more Open Cup matches (four out of four) than league matches (three for 30). Kreis said D.C United will view this as "a chance to save the season," and his team must also think of this as an important game. His team is listening.

"I think they have really good players. They just haven't been able to get it together, maybe some injuries took a toll," RSL midfielder Kyle Beckerman said. "For whatever reason, it's not working in the MLS season, but it has been working in the Open Cup, so we know they're going to be throwing everything at us."

Olsen made clear he will indeed be throwing everything at the Claret and Cobalt, saying his game plan is designed to keep possession and make sure Salt Lake isn't able to send "wave after wave" down the middle of the park.

"They've got creative players. They've got a good system, they know what they're about, so we're up against it, make no mistake about it," he said. "But I think we're looking forward to the challenge, we're looking forward to being underdogs and seeing if we can't get this one tomorrow."

United has been thinking about going from underdog to spoiler a lot the past month, but they'll have an entire offseason to think about what happens over 90 minutes on Tuesday.

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