DC United clinched the Third Lamar Hunt US Open Championship after they defeated Real Salt Lake at Rio Tinto Stadium on October 1. The only goal of the game came at stroke of half time from united midfielder Lewis Neal.
Ben Olsen’s team were the overwhelming underdogs going into the tie, at the bottom of MLS Eastern Conference and facing a formidable RSL side challenging for the Supporter’s Shield and top of the Western Conference. They could, however, take comfort from the fact that they did beat RSL in regular MLS season earlier in March. Real Salt Lake also had a poor 0-2 record of finals held in Rio Tinto prior to the game.
RSL predictably enjoyed early possession in the first half, but DC were compact with two banks of four behind the ball in their own third. The best RSL chance of the half came to Joao Plata in the 27th minute after a threaded ball from Sebastian Velasquez found the forward with a tight angle on goal. Plata’s rushed shot went wide.
The game became physical early in the half when Lewis Neal lunged in on young RSL center-back Carlos Salcedo. The animosity between the teams continued throughout the game, marked by several verbal and physical confrontations and several disciplinary cautions throughout the game.
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DC United’s discipline and industry paid off in the 45th minute when a John Thorrington cross from the left flank bounced off Salcedo and fell kindly for Neal. The DC midfielder precisely slotted the ball home with left foot.
RSL came into the second half with a more direct approach and greater tempo and attacking urgency. Midfielder Ned Gravaboy forced a save out of Bill Hamid in the 52nd minute, followed by a left-footer from Velasquez hitting the top bar from the edge of the box.
As the half wore on, RSL continued to overload the box as DC dropped deep into their own half. The final quarter saw Jason Kres’ men creating a barrage of goalmouth opportunities, including a header from Nat Borchers, a close range effort from Alvaro Saborio and an overhead kick from Devon Sandoval. DC failed to find a consistent outlet as RSL thumped long balls into the opponent half, without finding a telling finish.
The final minutes of second-half injury time summed up the night for RSL, as the ball hit the post again after several touches in the box. Agonizingly close, but not enough for claret and cobalt.
RSL would feel disappointed at the outcome, but must focus on the regular season as they challenge for the Supporters’ Shield and the MLS come. DC United would feel like they have accomplished the improbable, completing the underdog journey to glory.