While their MLS season has had few positives, D.C. United can consider their 2013 campaign a success after upsetting Real Salt Lake 1-0 in Tuesday's Lamar Hunt US Open Cup final at Rio Tinto Stadium.
Lewis Neal’s first-half stoppage-time goal proved the difference for D.C., who won their third Open Cup title and, in the process, secured a spot in the 2013-14 CONCACAF Champions League.
The loss is another home-field tournament final disappointment for RSL, who fell at Rio Tinto to Mexican side Monterrey in the second leg of the 2010-11 CCL final by the same 1-0 score.
This home defeat will have extra sting for RSL, who came in to the match near the top of the MLS table and were considered a heavy favorite over bottom-of-the-table United.
Real Salt Lake generated most of the offense on the evening, outshooting D.C. 18-6 and holding possession nearly 70 percent of the time. But D.C. weathered the onslaught with some timely stops and a handful of fortuitous bounces.
After neither team could get a solid chance near the goal, D.C. finally broke through just before the halftime whistle. After John Thorrington’s run down the left flank got him just outside the box, the midfielder launched a shot that deflected off RSL defender Carlos Salcedo. The bounce caromed straight to Neal near the penalty spot, and the English midfielder quickly slotted it past a diving Nick Rimando.
The goal would hold up, but not for lack of trying by Real Salt Lake. The Claret-and-Cobalt had nearly constant possession in D.C.’s end of the field in the second half, but just couldn’t quite find the equalizer.
In the 59th minute, RSL midfielder Sebastian Velasquez got free in the United box and got off a left-footed shot that clanged off the crossbar after a slight D.C. deflection, resulting in a corner kick.
RSL threatened again in the 71st minute, when after a lengthy back-and-forth in the box, Nat Borchers finally headed a shot that went just wide. A similar scenario happened 10 minutes later when an Álvaro Saborío shot was saved just over the crossbar by Bill Hamid.
United's goalkeeper stayed under fire to the very end, saving a Devon Sandoval bicycle kick in extra time and watching a Saborío header hit the crossbar right before the final whistle.
But for all the attacking RSL mustered late, Neal's first-half goal was the lone tally on the final scoreboard and it was United celebrating on the Rio Tinto pitch to wrap the 100th edition of the US Open Cup.
Both teams have a quick turnaround back to league play, as D.C. host Chicago on Friday night. RSL, meanwhile, return to their Supporters' Shield hunt on Saturday, when they host FC Dallas.