In a season full of lasts, of injuries and embarrassments, of uninspired offense and patchy defense, D.C. United looked nothing like the worst team in Major League Soccer on Wednesday night.
Ben Olsen’s club didn’t merely advance to its fifth US Open Cup final with a 2-0 win. It did so by winning a road game in an MLS stadium for the first time this season. It did so by beating the Chicago Fire for the first time this year, on the heels of an embarrassing 4-1 loss at Toyota Park weeks earlier. And it did so with Open Cup standout Dwayne De Rosario leading the way.
In the bleakest of seasons, United now have something for which to look forward.
“It’s huge man, it’s huge,” said De Rosario, who scored the eventual game-winner in the 44th minute. “Despite what we have been through this year, the trials and tribulations, it’s nice that we come together in tough times and that we get something out of it. …
“We came and we showed that tonight. We showed that we wanted it more. We were first to everything.”
This year’s Open Cup matches have brought the best out of United, from gutting out a win in penalty kicks against the Richmond Kickers after playing to a scoreless draw, to two comfortable victories against Philadelphia and New England. At the heart of it all has been De Rosario, who again ignited his team Wednesday and now has five goals in the tournament compared to two in MLS matches.
“He led us tonight,” Olsen said of his captain. “His last two games he has played hungry and the guys are feeding off that. When Dwayne plays in that manner it’s easy to get behind him and follow his lead.”
United won back-to-back matches (all competitions) for only the second time this season as the team’s July influx of young, American players – in particular Luis Silva – has helped reinvigorate the team.
And while at times throughout the season Olsen and various players have cited frustration with a lack of energy on the pitch, none of that was evident Wednesday. There was Perry Kitchen sliding to save a ball off the line, James Riley later doing the same, and Joe Willis pouncing on every loose ball while the attack landed five shots on target.
The emphasis the organization has placed on attempting to win its third Open Cup clearly wasn’t lost on the players during a memorable night for D.C.
“The way the season has been going for us, just to put ourselves in this position to win a championship really feels amazing and there’s just a really good vibe going on through the team right now,” said Nick DeLeon, who scored United’s second goal. “I couldn’t be happier that we put ourselves in this position considering the season we are having.”
United will travel face Real Salt Lake – one of the three teams D.C. have beaten during their MLS campaign – in the USOC final on Oct. 1.