This is really happening. D.C. United, currently sitting at the bottom of Major League Soccer, have made their way into the U.S. Open Cup final, going on the road to defeat the Chicago Fire 2-0 on Wednesday. The win puts them within one victory of silverware, a spot in CONCACAF Champions League, and a huge asterisk to what has otherwise been a disastrous season.
With goals from Dwayne De Rosario and Nick DeLeon, United are within reach of their third Cup, having won the competition in 1996 and 2008. They’ll either play at Portland on September 24 or at Real Salt Lake on October 1, depending on the winner of the night’s second semifinal.
De Rosario opened the scoring just before halftime when a mistake by Fire goalkeeper Sean Johnson left Chicago’s goal abandoned, allowing the United attacker to open the scoring after Johnson’s inability to hold onto a floated cross.
Just after halftime, DeLeon beat Johnson near post after a pass from James Riley, doubling United’s lead.
Chicago had various chances as the game wound down. Juan Luis Anangonó, Mike Magee and Austin Berry all threatened to cut the visitor’s lead in half, but by full time, fortune combined with some desperate defending maintained United’s clean sheet.
The contrast between the team’s league form and Cup run is irresistible. United have only 13 points in 22 games, the worst record in Major League Soccer. They’re last in goals scored, next-to-last in goals allowed, and long ago had to give up their playoff hopes. Coming off a second place finish in the East, their 2013 has been a huge disappointment.
Yet in the Cup, they’re within 90 minutes of claiming one of the league’s Champions League spots. And with new acquisitions like Conor Doyle and Luis Silva augmenting DeLeon and De Rosario, United has a new look. Joe Willis has taken over for Bill Hamid in goal, Jared Jeffrey’s returned from Europe, while Kyle Porter and Riley have helped provide some stability. There’s reason to think this United’s much more capable than the one that stumbled through spring.
They’ll be underdogs in the final. Big ones. But this team’s more capable than their MLS record hints. That’s why they were able to win in Chicago tonight. That’s why they’ll give whomever they face trouble in the Cup final.