(D.C. United) (D.C. United)

With the playoffs well out of reach, all that matters to D.C. United is the U.S. Open Cup final at Real Salt Lake. And although the outcome of the league matches between now and Oct. 1 have no bearing, United needs to get into form and gain momentum.

“Without it,” as midfielder Lewis Neal pointed out, “we can’t expect to win.”

United had a golden opportunity to start building momentum Saturday night at Red Bull Arena. The chances were there during an encouraging second half. Alas, DCU fell short again.

The schedule leading to the Open Cup:

Next Sunday at Chivas USA (without Dwayne De Rosario, Dejan Jakovic and Kyle Porter, on Canadian duty).

Sept. 14 at home against the Galaxy, which is picking up steam for the playoffs.

Sept. 22 at New England, a playoff contender.

Sept. 28 at Toronto, a match in which several DCU regulars will sit out to conserve energy for the final three days later.

United is hopeful Chris Pontius, who accompanied the team to New York but was not in uniform and missed his seventh straight match, will play in the championship match. For that to happen after such a long layoff, he will need to get back onto the field in the next two weeks.

De Rosario is now 3 of 6 on penalty kicks in regular season play since joining United in mid-2011.

Stung by Luis Robles‘s save, De Rosario suffered further pain in the dying moments when Jamison Olave tagged him in the chin with an elbow. DeRo needed stitches. The incident prompted a sideline exchange between the coaches, former teammates and roommates Ben Olsen and Mike Petke. When the final whistle sounded, they were back on good terms.

“Mike knows, in a real 1 v 1 street fight, who is going to come out on top,” Olsen said with a sly smile. “Mike has always known that.”

De Rosario wasn’t the only one seeking treatment. Jared Jeffrey sprained his right ankle in the first half and departed.

In Richmond, the top-seeded Kickers were upset by the Charlotte Eagles, 2-1, in the USL Pro semifinals. Fifth-seeded Charlotte will visit No. 2 Orlando City in next Saturday’s final. United loaners Andrew Dykstra and Conor Shanosky went the distance for Richmond, while Michael Seaton entered in the 71st minute.

For my DCU match report, click here.

The highlight package: