You don’t need the big soccer brain to understand why Tuesday’s U.S. Open Cup final would mean the sun, the moon and the stars for D.C. United. This is it for the Black and Red, the one and only chance to salvage some joy from a season of woe like perhaps none other around RFK Stadium.
From Real Salt Lake’s standpoint, the dimensions of the reward are not quite as clear, although surely there. It takes just a little more digging to find them.
Back to D.C. United for a moment before we get deploy the shovels regarding RSL.
It’s difficult to convey in just a couple of sentences the death spiral that 2013 has been for once-proud D.C. United, the league’s original trophy hog. Yes, other clubs have endured miserable seasons. But not only is the ongoing campaign around RFK Stadium crawling toward the “historically poor,” when weighed against the backdrop of expectations this is probably the ugliest fall from grace yet seen in MLS. Remember, this team was so close to an MLS Cup appearance a year ago; hopes were sky high in 2013.
The Washington Post’s Steven Goff covered things from D.C. United’s end pretty well here. The gist is the enormous, unlikely opportunity that fate (and some savvy tournament play) has provided: to actually lay hands on an important trophy despite this dreadful campaign.
People love the thought of making American soccer in the foreign image, and this is part and parcel: teams can sometimes put a bright blue ribbon around an otherwise black campaign through tournament play. Just a few months ago, Wigan Athletic claimed one of the global game’s most storied trophies, the FA Cup, in the same beleaguered season in which it was relegated into England’s second tier.
As Goff says, soccer “worldwide offers second chances. While the league mission remains paramount, cup competition is often salvation for clubs on the skids.”
While it’s clearly about redemption and not much else for Ben Olsen’s team, there are multiple motivation moving pieces for Real Salt Lake. The chances of a Supporters Shield, and MLS Cup and (of course) the Open Cup in the same season may remain relatively remote, but Real Salt Lake is the one and only club with such a chance for 2013.
But “something special” for 2013 around Rio Tinto doesn’t begin and end with some unlikely “treble.” General manager Garth Lagerwey and coach Jason Kreis (pictured) jettisoned three well-regarded but high-salaried men at the end of 2012, Will Johnson, Jamison Olave and Fabian Espindola. That’s the reality of life in MLS, especially at a smaller market club.
They expected the exciting young likes of Luis Gil, Carlos Salcedo, Sebastian Velasquez, Yordany Alvarez and (U.S. Open Cup specialist) Devon Sandoval to make the team competitive this year. But getting to cup finals? Kreis told me about two weeks ago that this much success, this soon, has surprised even him.
Beyond that, Kreis is such a competitive person, all about soccer and all about the team. He was like this as a player, too – and he always had just a little chip on his shoulder. It’s what drove Kreis as a player (a smaller player, but the first Major League Soccer scorer to reach the 100-goal milepost). It’s what drives him as a coach today –and what may drive him to accept the head coaching post at New York City FC, which we’ve written about previously.
Here’s what Kreis said (during my Soccer Today interview with him linked above) about a chance to win the title as a manager – the title that he won as a player with the Dallas Burn back in 1997. He references the 2009 MLS Cup championship; for all of RSL’s success, there’s been a lot of “getting close,” but just one major title.
It’s a chance to win a trophy, and it’s been a long time. I think everybody knows we’ve been a pretty successful franchise. We have shown that we can be consistent. We’ve shown that we be toward the top of the table every year. We have shown that we can get 15 wins and 50 points the last three years, and most likely we will do it for a fourth year in a row. So we’ve done a lot of good things, but we haven’t won a lot of trophies. … I look at this as a huge opportunity for us to put another win one in our pocket and to say that we’re not just about consistency and playing well, but we’re also about winning things.”