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Previewing tonight’s U.S. Open Cup semifinals

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Finalists for the 100th U.S. Open Cup will be decided tonight as D.C. United visits Chicago and Portland visits Real Salt Lake. They count the same in a technical sense – and yet one just feels so much larger.

There is ample history on the line at Toyota Park in suburban Bridgeview tonight. This is the only chance for D.C. United to salvage something from a season gone wildly awry. And this does look like an improved team, recently fortified by Luis Silva and loanee Donor Doyle.

Chicago can still make the MLS playoffs, but the task remains an uphill climb. Safe to say that for both of these proud clubs, each with some rich Open Cup history, tonight’s encounter rates high on the “meaningful” meter.

The Washington Post’s Steven Goff says Joe Willis will guard goal once again – we talked a little about that at PST recently – and that Chris Pontius is healthy enough to travel.

For Chicago, whatever squad rotation is in the works following the weekend’s big, confidence-inspiring win at Philadelphia, expect to see Mike Magee, a.k.a. Magic Mike, the Fire’s saving grace in 2013, against a Black and Red back line that team officials somehow refuse to improve.

Meanwhile in Utah, two giants collide in a match heavy with significant subplot.

Start here: Wednesday’s winner from Rio Tinto Stadium will host the final. Either site would be epic.

There’s Will Johnson’s return to Real Salt Lake, where he made his MLS bones. An offseason trade sent Johnson to Portland, where he has established himself as captain and a league MVP candidate.

There’s Caleb Porter vs. Jason Kreis, two of the top, young managerial minds in the U.S. game. Porter said he has “looked forward to playing them for a long time.” There are lots of similarities in the teams’ styles, both reliant on possession and disciplined spacing and movement.

RSL is currently top of the West in MLS, and Kreis’ team keeps getting closer to its best 11. Chris Wingert and Tony Beltran, the teams’ top outside backs, are expected to start tonight for the first time since late June.

Kyle Beckerman and Nick Rimando have played one match since returning from their essential part in the U.S. Gold Cup triumph.

MLS Snapshot: Orlando City SC 2-1 Montreal Impact

Cyle Larin, Orlando City SC

The game in 100 words (or less): For weeks, it was a widely held belief that the Montreal Impact would snatch up the sixth and final playoff place in the Eastern Conference with little or no resistance from their opposition. As they went six games unbeaten (four wins), all looked to be setting up perfect for the club that fired Frank Klopas midseason, but there was another team in the race for sixth that kept winning themselves: Orlando City SC. On Saturday night, Montreal and Orlando City faced off at the Citrus, with the expansion Lions claiming their fourth-straight victory with a 2-1 triumph. Montreal now holds a one-point lead on Orlando in the race for sixth, and have two games in hand, but it’s no longer a foregone conclusion L’Impact will qualify for the playoffs no resistance whatsoever.

[ MORE: | Week 30 TOTW | POTW ]

Three moments that mattered

33′ — Bush’s mistake gifts Larin the opening goal — Larin did what your taught to do as a striker — “put it on frame, test the goalkeeper” — but in no universe does a shot so feeble have any business finding the back of the net. Evan Bush has been great this year. Hopefully (for Montreal’s sake), this howler doesn’t turn into the yips with the playoffs looming.

43′ — Hall’s “mistake” gifts Oduro an equalizer — Dominic Oduro equalized in the 43rd minute, when he took the ball out of the hands of Tally Hall and smashed it into the back of the net, but the goal should have been disallowed due to Hall having full control of the ball.

80′ — Hines hits the winner for Orlando — Seb Hines put the ball back into the mixer and just so happened to find the back of the net in the 80th minute. Sometimes that’s all it takes.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverageStandings | Stats | Schedule ]

Man of the match: Seb Hines

Goalscorers: Larin (33′), Oduro (43′), Hines (80′)

MLS Snapshot: NY Red Bulls 2-1 Columbus Crew SC

Bradley Wright-Phillips, New York Red Bulls
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The game in 100 words (or less): Two weeks in a row Columbus Crew SC have had a chance to go top of the Eastern Conference with a victory, and two weeks in a row Crew SC have failed to take a single point from massively important fixtures. Their latest defeat, a 2-1 humbling at the hands of the East-leading New York Red Bulls, started so well for Gregg Berhalter’s side, but was undone by a pair of costly, comedic defensive errors that allowed Lloyd Sam and Bradley Wright-Phillips (15th of the season) to erase an early deficit (Justin Meram) and win all three points. The result not only keeps the Red Bulls top of the East, but gives them a three- and four-point cushion with three and two games in hand on their nearest competitors., D.C. United and New England Revoltion respectively. For Crew SC, they’re four points back of the Red Bulls in fourth place, one point ahead of fifth-place Toronto FC, who have a game in hand.

[ MORE: | Week 30 TOTW | POTW ]

Three moments that mattered

9′ — Meram pokes it past Robles for an early lead — Meram “earned” his goal all the way back in midfield, when the Iraqi international’s mazy run took a routine turnover inside Crew SC’s defensive half and turned it into a dangerous counter-attacking opportunity. Harrison Afful overlapped and provided the cross for Meram to send home.

12′ — Sam capitalizes on multiple mistakes to equalize — Crew SC pass the ball out of the back. They don’t boot it forward to clear. It’s just what they do. Sometimes, that’ll bite you. When your goalkeeper and right back both have blunders clearing the ball 10 seconds apart, you probably deserve to concede an ugly, scrappy goal.

21′ — Wright-Phillips capitalizes on more defensive gaffes — See the above description for Red Bulls goal no. 1.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverageStandings | Stats | Schedule ]

Man of the match: Damien Perrinelle

Goalscorers: Meram (9′), Sam (12′), Wright-Phillips (21′)