U.S. Open Cup preview: Real Salt Lake and D.C. United compete for domestic soccer’s oldest crown

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  • This is the first of domestic soccer’s three significant, annual crowns
  • RSL attackers Alvaro Saborio and Javier Morales have 18 goals and 12 assists between them this year. D.C. United has just 20 goals total this year in league play.
  • Real Salt Lake is 50-14-14 in all competitions at Rio Tinto over the last four years

Tuesday’s contest at the base of the Wasatch Mountains sets up as such an awful mismatch that it hardly seems worth writing about in some ways.

Real Salt Lake and all its ongoing quality hosts a D.C. United team whose season has gone shockingly sideways. Well, well past its glory days (for now, at least) United’s 2013 season stands to be historically bad.

But seeming competitive imbalances aside, this is, after all, domestic soccer’s first of three big crowns (along with Major League Soccer’s Supporters Shield and the MLS Cup).  And this version of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup is extra special, the 100th edition.

Plus, this is a cup competition, where upsets are sometimes they way. And that may be the point, that no matter how horribly things have gone for Ben Olsen’s team, this is United’s one and only chance to put a big blue ribbon around a worthless season otherwise. The teams kick off Tuesday at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, Utah, just after 9 p.m. ET, live on GolTV.

(MORE: What an Open Cup title would mean to RSL, D.C. United)

Both teams rested their starters for MLS matches over the weekend. While that was a 100 percent no-brainer for D.C. United, which tumbled out of the MLS playoff picture weeks ago and tied all of its 2014 fortunes to this competition sometime during the interminable summer, it wasn’t so cut and dried for Real Salt Lake. RSL needed the points in MLS play, but manager Jason Kreis rolled the dice and fielded his reserves for a contest at Vancouver, a clear indication of how seriously the organization takes this competition.

“This is just a tournament that I’ve been pretty clear about with the players and I think I’ve been pretty clear with everybody,” Kreis said. “I want to win this tournament and I want to win it in the worst way.”

It would be Real Salt Lake’s second major trophy following the 2009 MLS Cup (pictured above). Not only is RSL playing at home, the talent edge is tilted heavily its way.

U.S. internationals Kyle Beckerman and Nick Rimando remain at the top of their games. Beckerman even manned the middle for Jurgen Klinsmann’s national team as the Americans clinched their World Cup 2014 spot three weeks ago in a 2-0 win over Mexico.

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D.C. United forward Dwayne De Rosario has 3 goals and 2 assists in league play this year, his worst output since joining Major League Soccer in 2001.

Costa Rican international striker Alvaro Saborio should return to the field following his recent injury struggles; he has 50 goals in 94 league matches with RSL, a prodigious rate in almost any league. Javier Morales (8 goals and 10 assists) may have wandered over to the wrong side of 30 (he is 33 now), but the Argentine playmaker has looked like his younger self lately.

Consider that Saborio and Morales have combined for 18 goals in league play; United has 20 goals total in league play, still flirting with historic lows in goals over an entire season (not to mention fewest wins over an entire season.)

Speaking of his younger self, midfielder Ned Grabavoy, now in his 10th MLS season, has been nothing short of a revelation for Kreis and Co. this year. His experience – Grabavoy won a U.S. Open Cup title with Los Angeles in 2005 – is a great balance for all the terrific young talent around Rio Tinto, the likes of Luis Gil and Olmes Garcia, just to mention two.

United isn’t completely without talent, starting with holding midfielder Perry Kitchen and U.S. under-23 goalkeeper Bill Hamid, both of whom will need massive matches.

And then there is 35-year-old former MLS MVP Dwayne De Rosario, who has slowed dramatically this year. His inability to get going in 2013 is a major reason why United is last in the East (a 3-21-6 record) with what it easily the league’s worst offense. United has just 20 goals in 30 MLS matches.

History is on United’s side, at least; the team from RFK Stadium has two Open Cup crowns (1996 and 2008) and been runner-up two other times.

But any edge in history hoodoo is probably mitigated by Real Salt Lake’s well-established authority at home. Kreis’ team is 50-14-14 at Rio Tinto in all competitions over the last four years.

(MORE: A domestic soccer “Treble” could loom, but this is the first box to check)

(MORE: Where would a United win rank among Open Cup upsets?)

Zlatan Ibrahimovic confirms Man United contract talks

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Zlatan Ibrahimovic is in talks with Manchester United about extending his stay at Old Trafford beyond this season.

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The veteran Swedish striker, 35, has scored 26 goals in 41 appearances in all competitions this season, and he has an option to extend his contract for another year. However, that option hasn’t been triggered yet by Ibrahimovic and United’s fans seem to be getting rather tetchy about the prospect of him not being around next season.

Ibrahimovic is enjoying life in England and revealed to the Manchester Evening News that he is in talks with the club about extending his stay in the Premier League.

“Let’s see what happens, we are talking,” Ibrahimovic said. “I have an option for another year, I want to do great as long as I’m here, so let us see, there is a lot of time. I’m enjoying being at a fantastic club, without doubts, one of the biggest clubs in the world with a great coach (Jose Mourinho).

“I know him before (from our time at Inter Milan), he’s a winner, he’s the perfect coach for this club. Being a Manchester United player, I don’t know how many people have that possibility but I am a Man United player, people wanted me here, I chose the club, I chose the best English club, that’s the way it works.”

Ibrahimovic also hinted that he would stay by stating he “never leaves a job unfinished” when talking about his dedication.

“I’m a person when I go into something I put my head 200 per cent, and I do what I’m good at. I go in, I go for the kill and I go out,” Ibrahimovic said. “And when I go out there is no complaints, that’s what I do. I never leave a job unfinished. I always go in, do my job, and in the way that is a fair play, a fair deal, that is what I do.”

With offers reported pouring in from Major League Soccer and the Chinese Super League, Ibrahimovic will likely have those kind of deals on the table next summer too. His current deal at United sees him paid over $310,000 per week but after joining from Paris Saint-Germain on a free transfer it could be one of the best pieces of business in United’s history if he helps them win the Europa League and/or finish in the top four in the PL this season.

If he leads the Red Devils back to the UEFA Champions League and has one more season as the talisman for Mourinho at Old Trafford, then leaves to finish out his playing days elsewhere, the legendary forward will go down as a hero in the eyes of United’s fans.

Portugal airport to be named after Ronaldo near his hometown

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FUNCHAL, Portugal (AP) Welcome to Cristiano Ronaldo Airport.

That will be the message awaiting passengers in the Madeira Islands from Wednesday, when the local airport will be renamed after the local star by the regional government.

Ronaldo is expected to attend a ceremony at the airport outside his hometown of Funchal on Wednesday, a day after his Portugal side lost 3-2 to Sweden in the city in a friendly.

The name change attracted a lot of attention locally, with many politicians opposing it.

Portugal’s squad landed on Monday at the airport displaying the trophy it won at the 2016 European Championship in France.

Funchal also has a Ronaldo statue and a museum about the player, as well a hotel complex named after him.

Arena reacts to USMNT draw, expects CONCACAF fight to end

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Bruce Arena didn’t enjoy watching Tuesday’s 1-1 draw between the United States and Panama, but he’s not upset with the result.

“The referee didn’t blow his whistle too much, and that’s the way the game looked for 90 minutes,” Arena said.

[ MORE: Player ratings | 3 things ]

Arena’s Yanks struggled to find their flow in the draw, ravaged by injuries to their back line. Arena praised his back four for their performance in difficult circumstances on the road with new teammates.

And he’s feeling a lot better than a week ago, when the U.S. had zero points and sat last in the table.

[ WATCH: Full match replay (Spanish) ]

“We’re obviously in better shape with four points in two games. We’ve made progress. Every game in qualifying is going to be critical for every team. Everyone’s in it. It’s going to be a battle for the second, third, and fourth spots.”

The Americans’ next World Cup qualifier is June 8 against Trinidad and Tobago before a June 11 road trip to Azteca to face Mexico.

Panama 1-1 USMNT: Ugly, scrappy point for both sides

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The United States will finish the international break in the Hex’s fourth place after a 1-1 draw at Panama in World Cup qualifying on Tuesday.

Clint Dempsey scored off a feed from Christian Pulisic to give the U.S. a brief 1-0 lead, and Gabriel Gomez leveled the score before halftime.

The Americans’ next World Cup qualifier is June 8 against Trinidad and Tobago before a June 11 road trip to Azteca to face Mexico.

[ MORE: Player ratings | 3 things ]

Here’s the Hex table as it stands, with the U.S. on pace for a playoff spot against Asia’s playoff winner:

Mexico — 10 points
Costa Rica — 7 points
Panama — 5 points
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USMNT — 4 points
———————-
Honduras — 4 points
Trinidad and Tobago — 3 points

[ WATCH: Full match replay (Spanish) ]

The first 10 minutes were a bit frenetic, with the U.S. focused on adventurous first touch passes when it managed to earn the ball from Panama.

That feel wasn’t aided by the officiating, as Cesar Ramos was inconsistent in a very physical opening quarter-hour (and never pulled a single card).

Felipe Baloy flashed a header over the cross bar off a 16th minute corner kick as he lost Jozy Altidore and nodded back across goal. It was a bit of set piece foreshadowing, as Arena has yet to fix a long-held USMNT problem.

Christian Pulisic was fired up when Luis Tejada shoved him to the turf in the 20th minute.

Tim Ream bailed out Jorge Villafana, who wasn’t as composed and smart as his Friday versus Panama, sliding to divert Armando Cooper’s cross for a corner kick.

Jermaine Jones cued up Pulisic moments later, but the youngster had to wait for a bounding ball to settle before Panama conceded a corner. That opportunity was wasted by an overly aggressive Gonzalez, who was called for a foul before the ball arrived in the 18.

Howard saw his first danger and averted it when Alberto Quintero shook Zusi to rip a shot on frame. It was 0-0 after 32 minutes.

Then, the breakthrough. Dempsey moved to within a goal of Landon donovan’s all-time mark thanks to Pulisic, who cooked Felipe Baloy and held off Roman Torres before laying off to the veteran. 1-0, 39′.

The lead lasted all of three minutes, as Gomez pounced on a loose ball with the Yanks’ back line at sixes and sevens off a long throw-in. Gomez turned off Jermaine Jones and lost Villafana to bury his chance behind Howard. 1-1, 44′.

The second half began with more chunky play until Villafana blazed down the left wing on an overlapping run to cross for Pulisic, whose shot was forced out for a corner which led to nothing.

Dempsey then turned a Michael Bradley free kick to a waiting Jaime Penedo as the Yanks started to refind their flow.

Panama found a doorstep chance when Torres nodded down for Tejada, but Howard made an exceptional nether regions “leg” save to keep it 1-1.

Arena introduced Alejandro Bedoya for Darlington Nagbe with 20 minutes to play, a move that was a testament to the physical nature of the game.

Fittingly, it was creative work from Pulisic that helped the U.S. win a corner kick soon after, though Penedo claimed the offering.

More chances came Panama’s way, as the U.S. spent much of the late stages desperately clearing loose balls. On another night, with better finishing from Tejada, the Yanks would’ve been sunk.