United Earns Spot in Open Cup Final
Wednesday, August 13, 2008
Having stumbled through the regular season and faltered in its international pursuits, D.C. United has turned to a humble tournament with nearly a century of tradition for salvation.
Winning the U.S. Open Cup will not mean as much as winning the MLS title in November, but for a club enduring a turbulent summer, it has become a vital quest.
United moved a step closer to its objective last night with a 3-1 semifinal victory over the undermanned New England Revolution before 6,797 at RFK Stadium. In the Sept. 3 final, United will host the second-division Charleston Battery, which defeated league rival Seattle on penalty kicks to become the first non-MLS team in nine years to play for the championship.
"We have been struggling in the league, so anytime we have a chance to win a trophy, we are all over it right now," defender Devon McTavish said. "Everyone is taking the Open Cup very seriously. It has shown with the results we have gotten, grinding stuff out. We are in the final, and that's where we want to be."
United (8-9-1 in the regular season) has not won the Open Cup since its 1996 inaugural season and not appeared in the title game since '97. In the recent past, United viewed the 94-year-old tournament as a distraction from league play and other events, but with a chance to rejuvenate its season and earn a berth in the 2009-10 CONCACAF Champions League, the club has made it a priority.
With United's lineup at almost full strength, Luciano Emilio scored twice and Santino Quaranta broke a tie early in the second half with his first goal since returning from a hamstring injury.
But while United saw value in the Open Cup, the defending champion Revolution had no use for it this year. With the best record in the league, the SuperLiga trophy in its possession and a busy schedule approaching, New England brought only a few regulars and had just four players on the bench.
Among the missing were all-star goalkeeper Matt Reis, scoring ace Taylor Twellman, who just returned from injury, and veteran midfielder Steve Ralston. At least two others are injured and defender Michael Parkhurst is with the U.S. Olympic team in China.
United's challenge was avoiding overconfidence against a watered-down opponent.
"For us, we have to look past that and say, 'We have to do the job here,' " said Quaranta, who played the second half of Sunday's 4-1 league loss to New York and started in central midfield last night. "They were organized, they were smart, but we broke them down a little bit and it worked out."
United encountered little resistance in the early stages and seized the lead in the fourth minute when Emilio headed Bryan Namoff's cross into the right side of the net. But United was unable to sustain the momentum and, before long, the match had balanced out.
In the 34th minute, New England midfielder Joe Germanese, making only his second start and third appearance of the year, drove the ball from the right side of the box toward Khano Smith in front of the net. Namoff disrupted the pass with a sliding effort, but sent the ball back to Germanese, who beat goalkeeper Zach Wells with a low shot.