SANDY, Utah – Lewis Neal was in the lineup in Tuesday night's US Open Cup final for his defense, plain and simple.
Facing one of the league's best offensive teams on its home field, D.C. United head coach Ben Olsen wanted extra bite in the midfield and called on Neal, who had made just three regular-season starts in an injury-plagued campaign.
Olsen got the defense he wanted, and a whole lot more.
The 32-year-old journeyman added to his surprising reputation as a clutch scorer with a goal in the 45th minute, propelling D.C. United to a 1-0 win over Real Salt Lake and their third US Open Cup title in franchise history.
"It wasn't pretty, but winning the cup isn't about being pretty," Neal told reporters afterward. "It's about winning the game."
His goal – the product of a scramble off a loose ball in the RSL box and a one-timed a shot inside the far post – is his second game-winner in the past year. Neal also scored a stoppage-time goal in a 3-2 win over the Columbus Crew last October that clinched D.C.'s first playoff berth since 2007.
Neal played just 20 minutes in the first five and a half months of the season due to offseason hernia surgery and a groin injury suffered in his only action on March 23.
"It's nice to see a guy work so hard," D.C. United captain Dwayne De Rosario said. "You look at a guy who's been injured all year, and to come back and help us get this victory is huge."
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Somewhat ironically, Neal has only been in a position to enjoy his game-winning moments with D.C. United because he failed to earn a roster spot while on trial with Real Salt Lake during the 2012 preseason. While Neal admitted that it's nice to get on the scoresheet against a team that snubbed him, he maintains there are no hard feelings.
"I don't hold any grudges," Neal said. "They're a great team, and it's a tough place to play in league, let alone in a final."