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.

Atletico Madrid roster for MLS All-Star Game includes Felix

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Major League Soccer fans will get a good luck at one of the hottest prospects in world soccer when the MLS All Stars take on Atletico Madrid in next week’s MLS All Star Game.

Joao Felix, the $142 million 19-year-old, is among the roster announced by Diego Simeone for the match.

[ MORE: Newcastle in for $28M Saint-Maximin ]

Felix scored 20 times with 11 assists in 40 matches for Benfica before moving to Atleti in the summer. Those numbers include a hat trick against Eintracht Frankfurt in the Europa League quarterfinals first leg.

The other stars will be there, too, provided no transfers happen in the interim. Koke, Thomas Lemar, Diego Costa, and Saul Niguez are in the squad.

New Atleti defender Kieran Trippier and longtime El Tri hero Hector Herrera will also be sure to help drive attendance in Orlando City.

The full roster is here.

Leagues Cup preview: MLS gets its next shot at Liga MX

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It’s not a typo; The s is very real.

The Leagues Cup — not the League Cup — is the new competition pitting Major League Soccer sides against some of the top sides from Mexico’s Liga MX.

The tournament has been expanded before it’s even seen a ball kicked in competition, as the second edition with go from eight to 16 teams.

[ MORE: Newcastle in for $28M Saint-Maximin ]

For now, though, we’ve got four American and four Mexican sides meeting over the next two months in a bid for North American supremacy not unlike a CONCACAF Champions League stripped of all the minnows.

Much like the CCL, the Mexican sides will be expected to triumph, even with all of the quarterfinals being staged in the United States.

Chicago Fire hosts Cruz Azul on Tuesday, followed by the LA Galaxy’s visit from Club Tijuana.

Wednesday will see the Houston Dynamo host Club America, and Tigres UANL at Real Salt Lake.

The winners meet Aug. 20, while the final will be played Sept. 18 in Las Vegas.

There’s a lot of promise in this, and it gives MLS another chance to make some statements about the distance between it and Liga MX. The Mexican sides have flat out dominated the CCL, and it’s not difficult to make the same prediction for this tournament.

But, like many tournaments, it also gives success-starved clubs a chance to give their fans something big and their players a tonic. For Bastian Schweinsteiger‘s Chicago, for one, it’s a huge opportunity. And for Zlatan Ibrahimovic and the Galaxy, it’s a look toward another piece of silverware for one of the world’s biggest trophy cases.

USMNT prospect Ledezma earns praise from van Nistelrooy

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Even for talents of the highest levels with top soccer education, sometimes a kid’s gotta learn how to eat.

Richard “Richie” Ledezma, 18, is in the midst of his first year at Eredivisie side PSV Eindhoven, a spot which beckoned after a five-match, one-goal season in the USL with Real Monarchs of the USL.

[ MORE: Chicago adds USMNT hero ]

Ledezma starred for U.S. U-20 team at the World Cup after his first half-season with PSV, which saw him play with the U-19s while trying to lose some weight.

From Goal.com:

“PSV help me with my nutrition, with my food and how I eat. It’s the quantity of food you eat, I guess,” he added. “Because I came a little chubby, when I got here, I guess. They all called me ‘fatty’ and stuff, so I was like, cool, you know? So no more McDonald’s.”

Goal’s James Westwood had a wide-ranging interview with Ledezma and also spoke with soccer royalty: longtime Real Madrid and Manchester United scorer Ruud van Nistelrooy was Ledezma’s coach with the U-19s.

“He’s making a difference in midfield with very quick-thinking passes, movement, can score a goal, play people in, he’s creating chances for the whole team.”

That’s not just good praise from a legend, but a solid sign for fans of the United States men’s national team. A proper No. 10 or playmaking midfielder could allow Gregg Berhalter or another future USMNT coach to use Christian Pulisic on the wings.

Ledezma has some work to do before he breaks into the first team of the Dutch runners-up, who have signed former Stoke City man Ibrahim Afellay and has Gaston Pereiro in the fold as well.

Newcastle reportedly in for $28M mercurial Nice attacker

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L’Equipe says that Newcastle United have returned to Nice in the hopes of landing Allan Saint-Maximin.

The Ligue 1 outfit wants $28 million for the playmaker, who could team up with Miguel Almiron and (maybe) Joelinton to give the Magpies a much-improved attack.

[ MORE: Chicago adds USMNT hero ]

Saint-Maximin, 22, has 10 goals and 10 assists across his last two seasons with Nice, and played everywhere in attack for Patrick Vieira: both wings, center forward, second striker, attacking mid… even some left and right midfield.

The player, however, has been a headache for Vieira at times, with the manager saying Saint-Maximin believes that he has enough talent to reach the highest level without the required amount of work.

That said, the youngster’s skill set is electric. He’s a March birth date, too, so a relatively young 22. That $28 million would be another transfer record broken for Newcastle, assuming it happens ahead of the Joelinton move.

Or… as Newcastle fan knows, neither could go through.