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Direct from Utah

D.C. United Beats RSL, 1-0, To Claim U.S. Open Cup

Despite a historically poor MLS campaign, D.C. United defeated Real Salt Lake, 1-0, to claim the 2013 U.S. Open Cup title. How did it all happen? We asked. Nobody seems to have the faintest clue.

BY Jon Arnold Posted
October 02, 2013
12:26 PM
SANDY, Utah—After celebrating a 1-0 win over Real Salt Lake with his team, Ben Olsen entered the news conference room at Rio Tinto Stadium, pulled up a chair, and attempted to explain the inexplicable.

How could a team that has won zero league matches on the road in 16 attempts do it three times in the U.S. Open Cup?

The D.C. United manager leaned forward in the chair he'd requested so he didn't have to stand at the dais that had been set up. He attempted to loosen his tie, already covered by a cheap, white t-shirt, the word "Champions" emblazoned on the front and blamed a Gatorade shower when his neckwear wouldn’t come loose.

"We took the Open Cup extremely serious this year from the first game," he said, "partly because we were so horrid in the league and we understood that this might be something that we can have, and we can hold a trophy up. The other one might be a long shot.

But when he first walked in, Olsen hadn't yet composed his thoughts or himself. "I'm not sure yet. I haven't fully processed it, you know?" he said of his emotional state. He wasn't alone.

"I mean, it's hard to describe," defender Ethan White said of the team's trophy run in the midst of an otherwise abysmal season.

Tuesday's win certainly didn't come easily. United had some nervous moments after Lewis Neal found a goal just before the halftime whistle. Real Salt Lake poured forward with multiple attacks after the break, but goalkeeper Bill Hamid made several clutch saves and White and center back partner Dejan Jakovic played well in what has been a problem spot for D.C. for most of the year.

To be fair, there have been quite a few problem spots for D.C. United this year. Despite being Eastern Conference finalists in 2012, the club needs to get a win in its final four MLS matches to avoid becoming the team with the fewest MLS wins in history.

"Honestly, no. I have no idea why we put together wins in Open Cup and not in the season, but I will gladly take it and I will gladly take this championship," said midfielder Nick DeLeon.

Nobody could articulate why D.C. could put together four wins in as many cup matches but has only managed three victories all MLS season.

For now, it doesn't matter if it's quantifiable or not. What can be measured is how well United performed in the tournament, and its freshly minted status as the first American team to qualify for the next CONCACAF Champions League.

"It helps. Believe me, this helps," Olsen said. "If we lose this one, it's back to the drawing board for the last four games, and it's a grind. But now we have a new energy about us to finish the season in the right way and look forward to CONCACAF"

Jon Arnold is an ASN contributing editor. Follow him on Twitter.

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