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?)

Transfer rumor roundup: Van Dijk to Chelsea, Ox to Anfield

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More and more players are being linked with Manchester United, but — believe it or not — the Red Devils aren’t the only club seeking talent.

DiMarzio is reporting that Antonio Conte is close to securing the services of Southampton center back Virgil Van Dijk, insisting the Dutch back is Conte’s top choice ahead of Juventus power house Leonardo Bonucci (which isn’t to say there isn’t room for both). The price? An eyebrow-raising $77 million.

[ MORE: Confederations Cup scenarios ]

Meanwhile, Conte is selling talented Bertrand Traore outside the Premier League. A solid season on loan at Ajax upped interest in the 21-year-old striker, and L’Equipe says it’s a $22 million move to Lyon for Traore.

How much do you think Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is worth? Liverpool may think his value is as high as $32 million, as The Independent reports that Arsenal is prepared to sell the Southampton Academy product to the attacker-heavy Reds.

Meanwhile, Serge Gnabry‘s wild journey looks to have another stop despite a purchase from Bayern Munich this summer. Gnabry was one of Germany’s heroes at the Olympics and left Arsenal for Werder Bremen last summer. He thrived, and earned a deal to Bayern, but Kicker brings quotes from a Hoffenheim player that are hopeful of a loan for this season.

Messi offers to pay $558,000 to avoid 21-month jail sentence

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Lionel Messi has offered to pay an additional fine of 500,000 euros ($558,000) to ensure he avoids a 21-month prison sentence for tax fraud that a judge is expected to suspend, a Spanish state prosecutor said Friday.

State prosecutor Isabel Lopez Riera told The Associated Press the fine-for-time deal was presented by Messi’s lawyers to the judge who will rule on whether to suspend Messi’s sentence – as is widely expected. Lopez Riera said she has told the judge that her office is not opposed to the deal.

[ MORE: Fabinho has interest in Man Utd ]

Lopez Riera said Messi’s lawyers have made a similar offer for the Barcelona player’s father, Jorge Horacio Messi. He is offering to pay 360,000 euros ($402,000) to avoid his 15-month sentence for helping his son cheat on his taxes.

In Spain, prison sentences under 24 months for first-time offenders can be suspended by a judge.

The government attorney representing Spain’s Tax Office in the case will also be able to weigh in on the proposed deal. As state prosecutor, Lopez Riera is impartial in the case as a defender of the public interest.

Last year, a court in Barcelona found Messi and his father each guilty of three counts of defrauding tax authorities of 4.1 million euros ($4.6 million) from 2007-09. The unpaid taxes were from money made through endorsement deals, not Messi’s salary paid by Barcelona.

Messi was fined 2 million euros and his father 1.5 million euros. Both were originally sentenced to 21 months, but his father’s sentence was later reduced to 15 months.

In the last two weeks, Real Madrid forward Cristiano Ronaldo and former Real Madrid coach Jose Mourinho have been accused by a Madrid-based state prosecutor of having defrauded Spain’s Tax Office of millions of euros (dollars) in unpaid taxes.

Both have denied wrongdoing.

WATCH: Pair of inspiring Academy videos from Men In Blazers

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Men In Blazers produced a pair of videos on two teens from rival academies that should give all young players a sense of gratitude and inspiration for their chances in American soccer.

New York City FC Academy center back Prince Amponsah and New York Red Bulls Academy destroyer Amadeo Chapru-Tate get the mini-doc treatment from Roger Bennett.

Amponsah comes from Ghana, and his family moved to the United States where their son found his way to the youth national team.

[ MORE: Fabinho has interest in Man Utd ]

Chapru-Tate comes from Haiti, adopted by his parents after a three-year process. His first game saw him score an own goal, but that was not a sign of what’s to come for the 15-year-old.

Confederations Cup: Scenarios before final group matches

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Seven of eight nations remain alive for the knockout rounds after two-thirds of the group stage at the 2017 Confederations Cup in Russia.

Only New Zealand has been eliminated, though the underdogs aren’t the sort of nations who will quit ahead of its group finale against Portugal.

That’s one of two Saturday matches, along with Russia versus Mexico, with two more on the docket for Sunday when Germany meets Cameroon and Chile duels with Australia.

[ MORE: Fabinho has interest in Man Utd ]

We’ve seen zany finishes at the Confederations Cup before, as the U.S. beat Egypt 3-0 and Brazil topped Italy 3-0 on the final day of group play in 2009 to send the Americans past Italy and into the knockout rounds despite a tournament-opening 3-1 loss to the Italians.

Group A

Draws will be enough to send Mexico and Portugal into the knockout rounds, with Mexico currently leading the group by virtue of a single goal scored (The two sides drew 2-2 in the opener).

We mentioned New Zealand’s status as a wild card, but hosts Russia will be under immense pressure against Mexico. The cynic will note that the tournament’s location could help the Russians beyond simple home-field advantage, while a bigger cynic may not that Mexico has been the beneficiary of plenty of officials’ whistles and non-whistles in recent years.

The safe bet is Portugal to win and Mexico to advance via draw or win.

Group B

No one’s safe, but Chile is feeling very good about its chances coming into Sunday’s match against Australia in Moscow. The Chileans battered Australia at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, and a draw would give them a place in the next round.

The Socceroos need a two-goal win to pass Chile and assure a spot in the next round. A one-goal win could also do the trick for Australia if Germany loses and Australia outscores the Germans (who currently hold a one-goal advantage).

Germany knows it’s result-and-in for them, while Cameroon faces the longest odds. Not only do the Africans need to upset the Germans, but they need a two-goal win and help. If Cameroon won by one, it would fail to pass Germany.