“This ranks as high as any cup that I’ve won in my entire life,” Ben Olsen said a few nights ago, gesturing toward the U.S. Open Cup trophy, which was hanging out with D.C. United players and supporters at an H Street bar. “Because of the situation and how it unfolded, this was, to me, as impressive if not more impressive than any of the other ones that I’ve ever won.”
It seemed like an absurd thing to say. If you haven’t followed, Olsen’s squad – in the midst of a historically wretched campaign – managed to claw its way to the championship game of the 100-year old tournament, open to U.S. amateur and professional teams. As heavy underdogs in Salt Lake City, against one of MLS’s best teams, United – which has won just three times during its league schedule — emerged with a 1-0 victory and a big shiny trophy.
Which left players smiling and laughing at Tuesday’s Barra Brava-led charity event, and taking a victory lap with their trophy at a Caps game the following night.
“It’s unbelievable. It really is,” Olsen said. “I’m still on a little bit of a high.”
“Our season wasn’t a complete waste,” as Ethan White put it.
But that’s old news. What was new to me was what happened after the players left the field with their trophy.
Because the thing is, if you had to draw up a scenario for celebrating the one merry moment in a mostly lousy year, well, this wouldn’t have been it.
“I wouldn’t choose to celebrate a championship in Salt Lake City on a Tuesday night” as John Thorrington put it. “But I always say some of the most fun and memorable vacations are the ones that don’t go the way you expect.”
This would qualify. See, when players and staff members got back to the team hotel, they thought they’d keep celebrating their victory a while longer. Other hotel guests thought differently.
“Apparently we were making too much noise,” White recalled. “Some guy down the hall was having a rough night apparently.”
A hotel staffer came up to assess to the situation. He said he understood the club was honoring a special moment, but that they needed a different venue. And someone came up with a plan.
“It was actually a genius idea,” Thorrington said.
“We had a great night,” Olsen agreed.
“They asked us to go to the weight room,” Pontius noted. “It was the most awkward-slash-entertaining experience I’ve ever had.”
Yes, that’s right, D.C. United celebrated its U.S. Open Cup championship in a hotel exercise room. Being professional athletes, a few of the players even used the equipment.
“There might have been a couple reps,” Pontius allowed, “in between the treadmill race.”
Now, I don’t know too much about the Cooper Test, an aerobic measure that can be performed on a treadmill. Nor did I know it could be completed in teams. (Don’t worry, players weren’t involved.) Some things, I reckon, are best left to the privacy of a hotel exercise room in Utah. The point is, this was a group that had experienced almost nothing but losses, and they weren’t going to let a triumph go unnoticed.
“There was a lot of relief; you could see it in the air,” said supporter Jorge Gadala-Maria, who traveled to Utah for the game and ran into the club at the airport the next morning. “Everyone was smiling. Every player had a smile on their face.”
“For that to happen in a season like this, it really did bring joy to the guys’ faces,” Pontius agreed. “For the whole organization, and especially for our fans, it was something to hold up in a tough year.”
White said he wouldn’t choose to celebrate future triumphs in exercise rooms, “not if I didn’t have to.” But he probably won’t forget the time that he did anytime soon.
“It was a great venue, full of treadmills and triceps machines,” Olsen said with a smile. “For that night, it worked.”