Open Cup win brings vindication, hope for Dynamo: "This game was special"

HOUSTON – DaMarcus Beasley stood in the Houston Dynamo's locker room on Wednesday night, teammates still in champagne-shower mode, his captain’s armband still around his bicep, wearing a freshly-won U.S. Open Cup medal around his neck. It was a celebration, and Beasley radiated relief and joy.

But when reporters’ questions led him to reflect on the Dynamo’s entire body of work in 2018, the 36-year-old flashed a bit of an edge — a competitive edge that has fueled him since he entered MLS nearly 20 years ago.

“Tonight was special because we haven’t had the best season,” he assessed. “I’ll say it again, as I’ve said it before: This does not save our season. We’ve had a bad season. This doesn’t save it. It makes it a little bit better. We haven’t been good enough in the league, but it doesn’t matter because right now, it’s about Open Cup. It’s about being Open Cup champions.”

Houston opened 2018 by beating current league leaders Atlanta United 4-0 in their home opener, playing quick, counterattacking soccer and reaching the final scoreline by the halftime whistle. But they immediately followed that performance with a four-game winless streak, battled throughout the spring and early summer to stay in playoff contention, then hit a season-spoiling, 10-game winless streak that stretched from July to mid-September.

Last weekend, striving to keep their mathematical playoff hopes alive, they only could manage a scoreless draw against an Orlando City team who endured an even more epic midseason swoon. By the end of this weekend, they may well be officially out of playoff contention.

But defeating the Philadelphia Union on Wednesday night puts the Dynamo in a better place — especially Beasley, who emphasized in a pregame press conference the importance this cup final held for older players like Boniek Garcia, Philippe Senderos and himself.

“Everyone knew how much this means to me. After the Orlando game, I told them this game was special,” said Beasley. “It’s a final. It’s one game. The same thing I said in the press conference, I said to my teammates. One game. It doesn’t matter where you are in the standings. It doesn’t matter if you’re in last place. It’s one game, one night to show who you are, to show you’re on the best team on that day.”

Beasley credited his teammates for taking the game to the Union, mounting a first-half lead that held up despite the Union’s clear advantage in shots (19-9) and possession (60.9 percent-39.1 percent).

“You saw it in the first half,” he said. “We came out, defended well in the first half, and we took our chances. That’s what it’s about. In the finals, you have to take your chances.”

Those chances, created by Alberth Elis, Romell Quioto and Juan David Cabezas pushing the tempo, paid dividends via Mauro Manotas, who continues to have a breakout season on a team already boasting attacking potency.

In registering a brace, Manotas won the Open Cup’s Golden Boot award with six goals, and became the first Dynamo player to hit the 20-goal mark in all competitions for a calendar year, having already surpassed Will Bruin’s previous team record of 16 in 2012.

“He's a fantastic professional, he's a fantastic top scorer, and we're lucky to have him,” said Dynamo coach Wilber Cabrera of Manotas. “Every day he's growing in all aspects, not only as a player but as a person. He's more mature, and he's only 23 years old. And having that performance, having him on the field with that mentality, is showing that we have good mentality in our locker room.”

The Open Cup win also means the Dynamo will enter the 2019 Concacaf Champions League. Though Cabrera was happy to hoist the trophy on Wednesday, he said he’s already looking ahead to the demands that an extra competition could put on his squad.

“We have been having some difficulties in terms with the MLS season and with the injuries,” Cabrera noted. “We need to prepare ourselves much better and we need to be sure that we extend the roster for a competition like that. Because when you have international competition and when you have the MLS competition, you're going to go for it, you have to go for it all.”

Though the Audi 2018 MLS Cup Playoffs are almost certainly not in the cards for the Dynamo, they did beat three MLS teams likely to qualify for the playoffs — Sporting Kansas City, LAFC and the Union — on the way to their Open Cup win. And Beasley knows, having won the first of his three USOC titles back in 2000, that such an accomplishment can be a springboard for future ones.

“I want everyone in this locker room, the young guys experiencing their first championship, to understand what this feels like,” Beasley said. “Have it, keep it for the rest of your careers, so they can hopefully feel this way again, and bring this experience on to the next generation. That’s what I’ve tried to do in my time.”