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Hometown hero Ethan White stars in another DC United Open Cup win, this time from up close

WASHINGTON – D.C. United center back Ethan White grew up a fan of the club for which he now plays.

In fact, he was working as a ball boy the last time United won a US Open Cup championship, when they beat the Charleston Battery in the 2008 final at RFK Stadium.

“They brought the older guys in because they didn’t want the young ball boys,” White told reporters on Thursday. “They wanted us to give [Charleston] the ball slow and to give us the ball fast.”

And while the role of ball boy in an Open Cup match obviously is not one to be taken lightly, his memories from D.C.’s 1-0 victory against Real Salt Lake on Tuesday to win the USOC title for the club’s third time are far more vivid.

“The biggest memory was when the ref said, ‘Once Bill [Hamid] punts the ball, it’s over,’” said White, who spent Thursday morning staring at the trophy “in awe.” “And after that we were yelling, ‘Bill, just kick the damn ball.’ And then we just lost it.”

White’s steady play amid a barrage of pressure from Real Salt Lake at Rio Tinto Stadium was a major factor in United’s narrow victory. It was a performance, from the 22-year-old and the club as a whole, which resembled D.C.’s gritty efforts down the stretch last season en route to a second-place finish in the Eastern Conference.

United may be all but guaranteed a last-place finish this year, but the Open Cup victory injected new life into a season that desperately needed it. Lately, White’s play has done the same.

“He’s been very steady,” United coach Ben Olsen said Thursday. “His concentration has been high. And that’s what you want out of your center backs. You don’t want them sliding all over the place and making miraculous plays; you want them to be steady. Be that rock down the middle of the field.”

Physical, imposing and calm under pressure, White missed all of 2012 due to a meniscus injury and has been an inconsistent lineup presence this year: He has started 13 matches, logging 1,099 minutes, but has never started more than five MLS games in a row.

“I have constant conversations with Ben, and he says, ‘Stay in it, you’re a good player, you belong on this team,’” White said. “I know my role. Whether it’s the third center back or starting, I know I’ve got to be ready regardless. My job is to make his job hard. Make him make tough decisions. I think I’ve done that for him, and we’ve had a good relationship back and forth. Things are starting to swing, but I’ve got keep it up.”

D.C. United have four matches remaining in 2013, and White hopes to continue to make a bid for an increased role next season.

“I think I’m just slowly putting my game together,” he said. “It comes with experience, but I think I’m finally finding my way.”