DC United v Real Salt Lake - 2013 U.S. Open Cup Final

D.C. United stuns Real Salt Lake in 2013 U.S. Open Cup final

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Let’s save the larger debates for later about whether D.C. United’s season was somehow saved – heck, for that matter, whether coach Ben Olsen’s job was saved – on a gorgeous Tuesday night in the Utah mountains?

And we may need time to digest what, exactly, to make of the irony or all domestic soccer ironies, that one of the worst teams in Major League Soccer history – not by subjective measure, but by a mounting stack of hard statistical evidence – is the new Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup champion.

But for now, let’s just tip our caps to Olsen’s men, who bravely ignored the blistering odds and brushed off any negative energy from a league campaign gone sideways to concoct a moment of redemption, to dig some joy from these months of misery.

D.C. United is the new U.S. Open Cup champion (on the storied tournament’s centennial, 100th version no less). And Lewis Neal, a fairly anonymous figure among some of the real giants who have performed through the years for the Black and Red, now has his place in club history. It was Neal’s goal just before half that held in up the 1-0 win at a stunned Rio Tinto Stadium.

In addition to $250,000 prize money and the right to feel good about something for a while, United will claim the CONCACAF Champions League berth that goes to each year’s Open Cup winner.

Relentless, determined, committed pressure from D.C. United meant more Tuesday over 90 minutes than the yawning and telling 36-point gap between the teams in Major League Soccer’s standings. Yes, 36 points. United has just three wins in league play all year (a 3-21-6 record, dead last in the East and last for months in our own weekly rankings)

But that’s tournament play, and that’s what makes single-elimination competition like the Open Cup special. Just as Wigan showed the world six months ago while claiming the FA Cup implausibly, a lesser team can pour enough effort into one match to smite the giants over 90 minutes.

Real Salt Lake, with the better talent and the home-field edge, looked strangely out of sorts or tentative (or maybe a little combination of both) in Tuesday’s early minutes. Unable to break down United’s recessed defense, the home team needed half an hour to concoct its first good scoring opportunity. That came when Ned Grabavoy joined Sebastian Velasquez to find Joao Plata’s clever run through, only to see the shot sail high and wide.

For all of RSL’s possession, the men from Utah weren’t doing much with it. And it cost Jason Kreis’ team just before intermission.

Olsen’s plan of “bunker and break strategically” paid off just before the break when Perry Kitchen, DCU’s best man to that point, launched a sequence that finished with a loose ball in RSL’s penalty area. Neal pounced and his well-placed, well-hit left-footer gave RSL ‘keeper Nick Rimando little chance.

RSL turned up the pressure immediately after the break, but timely interventions from center back Dejan Jakovic (who gets beaten up regularly by fans and media) and from goalkeeper Bill Hamid kept United’s lead. Hamid’s 81st minute stop on a close-in effort from RSL striker Alvaro Saborio marked his night’s best work.

Meanwhile, center back Ethan White may have put in the best 90 minutes yet in a United shirt.

RSL, finding the urgency that so dearly missed through the first 45 minutes, got closer and closer. Velasquez’s big shot off the cross bar in the 60th minute. Ten minutes after that, Nat Borchers went just wide with a header and Saborio went just high in stoppage time.

UEFA Champions League preview: Spurs, Foxes, and BVB hosts Real

MADRID, SPAIN - APRIL 02:  Gareth Bale of Real Madrid takes on Sokratis Papastathopoulos of Borussia Dortmund during the UEFA Champions League Quarter Final first leg match between Real Madrid and Borussia Dortmund at Estadio Santiago Bernabeu on April 2, 2014 in Madrid, Spain.  (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images
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Leicester City gets a home Champions League match, Spurs head to Russia, and two of the world’s best attacks meet in Germany; Tuesday’s UEFA Champions League slate is pretty tasty.

[ MORE: Allardyce on England hot seat? ]

An out-of-form Cristiano Ronaldo has Real Madrid in a mini-slump, and a trip to Borussia Dortmund isn’t exactly the antidote now, is it? Normally we wouldn’t dial that up, but Ronaldo has a knack for shining brightly when folks question him. We’ve seen this one before. Expect a highlight-reel night from CR7, but perhaps the same from high-flying BVB.

Spurs are buoyed by the news that Harry Kane‘s injury may not be as serious as first thought, but could be sunk back into the depths with a loss at CSKA Moscow on Tuesday. Spurs fell to Monaco, while CSKA scooped up a solid draw at Bayer Leverkusen.

Leicester City is looking to stay perfect after an impressive UCL debut at Club Brugge, and faces a big test in Portugal. Porto does quite well in this tournament almost annually, and won’t be scared by a trip to King Power Stadium. El Tri trio Miguel Layun, Jesus Corona, and captain Hector Herrera join familiar names Iker Casillas, Yacine Brahimi, and Maxi Pereira on the Porto roster.

Tuesday’s UCL matches

all matches at 2:45 p.m. ET

Sporting Lisbon vs. Legia Warsaw
Sevilla vs. Lyon
Dinamo Zagreb vs. Juventus
CSKA Moscow vs. Tottenham Hotspur
Borussia Dortmund vs. Real Madrid
Monaco vs. Bayer Leverkusen
Copenhagen vs. Club Brugge
Leicester City vs. Porto

Kei Kamara “shocked” at boos in return to Columbus

LOS ANGELES, CA - JULY 13:  Soccer player Kei Kamara attends the 2016 ESPYS at Microsoft Theater on July 13, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images)
Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images
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Kei Kamara couldn’t gather his emotions after his return to Columbus as a member of the New England Revolution.

The star striker netted 27 times in 41 appearances for the Crew before a locker room falling-out found him traded to New England.

[ MORE: Harry Kane to return sooner? ]

The reigning MLS joint-top scorer and a member of the 2015 Best XI, Kamara was back at MAPFRE Stadium on Sunday. The Revs fell 2-0, thanks to Columbus’  new Kamara, and Kei was booed.

There was bitter, smarmy Kei (from MLSSoccer.com):

“I was shocked,” he said after the match. “Come on. You make so many sacrifices for an organization to really boost it. But hey, if I can bring some life to the stadium for once in the season, why not?”

And there was also sad, pensive Kei:

“It wasn’t something I asked for, to move,” he said. “I’ve been thinking about it a lot. It’s been tough. It’s been really, really tough. But after today, I got the final answer to everything. It’s time to move on.”

“It’s time to move on. I’m happy where I am now and I wish [Columbus] the best of luck.”

I’ve rarely understood the booing of former players unless that player grievously harmed your club on the way out the door. Here in Buffalo, I’ve seen even the least-celebrated of ex-Sabres get the boo treatment, though, so it’s not uncommon.

Winter on Allardyce corruption allegations: “Touch and go whether he survives”

England international soccer team manager Sam Allardyce, centre, his assistant Sammy Lee, left, and FA chief executive Martin Glenn, right, applaud during the launch event of UEFA Euro 2020 and the unveiling of the tournament brand and the London host city logo at City Hall, in London, Wednesday Sept. 21, 2016. (AP Photo/Tim Ireland)
AP Photo/Tim Ireland
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As details continue to unfold from the Telegraph’s sting operation that may’ve caught England manager Sam Allardyce in its grasp, the question of whether the ex-Sunderland man could be fired after just months on the job is moving to the forefront.

Allardyce, 61, is on tape talking about third party ownership of players — a big no-no for FIFA — and the words have some alleging that he is giving advice on how to buck the system.

[ MORE: Watford’s Deeney rages after loss]

Given that the manager has only overseen one match for the Three Lions and had been accused, but never charged, with accepting bribes from agents in 2006, some think he may not survive the issue.

Well-connected The Times of London writer Henry Winter says it’s possible.

Liverpool’s Jurgen Klopp pulls the rug out from armchair tacticians

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Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp spent time on Sky Sports’ Monday Night Football set for Burnley’s 2-0 win over Watford, and proffered some fascinating comments.

The ones that had us quite delighted were some dismissive comments aimed at people who like talk about, even lament, the Reds’ “false nines” — boiled to its bone, an advanced attacking mid that assumes the striker’s role.

[ MORE: Allardyce in hot water ]

After all, most times a 4-5-1 and a 4-1-4-1 are essentially the same thing (and perhaps dictated more by how a match plays out). And when Liverpool is using Daniel Sturridge, Roberto Firmino, or Divock Origi, it’s the player that matters as much as the formation (USMNT fans can consider how Bobby Wood and Clint Dempsey rotated around the top of Jurgen Klinsmann’s formation at the Copa America despite having a traditional given position in the Starting XI).

“To be honest, I don’t think about us having now a false nine or no nine or whatever it is. These players are all responsible for being in the opposition box in all situations there can be. “

Right. If an attack is moving ahead with just one man sitting high, that most advanced attacker is a forward. It doesn’t matter if that attacker has drifted out left on defense, or checked deeper into the formation when the other team has the ball. He’s a striker.

“A lot of people have got different views on it. Where’s the difference between 4-1-4-1 and 4-5-1, I don’t see it really.

“4-3-3, it depends on the situation you are in. For example, if you play a 4-3-3 with real wingers, like Holland played a few years ago, then it is different.”

Presumably, Klopp is speaking of the 4-3-3 employed by Louis Van Gaal at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. Arjen Robben, Wesley Sneijder, and Robin Van Persie forced defenses to stretch wide as well as long, and that is a genuine 4-3-3. It’s much different than an average formation graphic showing three players high and three players low. The spacing of the opposition and movement of the ball match demands that!

Tactics and techniques are a lot of fun to discuss and debate, but Klopp reminded us a fact that plays out in almost every match. Most times, when the ball is kicked in anger, it’s “about Jims and Joes, not X’s and O’s” as former University at Buffalo and current Canisius College men’s basketball coach Reggie Witherspoon liked to say.