SANDY, Utah — D.C. United finally found some success in an otherwise dismal season.
Winless on the road in Major League Soccer and sporting the league’s worst record, United upset Western Conference leader Real Salt Lake for its third U.S. Open Cup championship on Tuesday night, winning 1-0 on Lewis Neal‘s goal in the 45th minute.
United, which last won the Cup in 2008, secured a spot in the 2014-15 CONCACAF Champions League with the title.
Salt Lake put relentless pressure on D.C. in the second half, firing off numerous shots on goal.
“The onslaught was most of the second half,” United coach Ben Olsen said. “They would come in waves and you can’t fall asleep for a second.”
Few things have gone right for D.C. this season and winning a championship on the road against one of the elite MLS teams gave a team stuck at the bottom of the league standings hope that things will improve.
“Now we know,” United goalkeeper Bill Hamid said. “We have that belief. We have that faith in ourselves that we can go and get a result anywhere we want. As long as you believe, and continue that mentality, you can do it.”
RSL controlled possession and had more scoring chances during the first half, but couldn’t crack United’s defense.
Neal put D.C. on the board while cleaning up a loose ball in the box. The midfielder latched onto the ball and slotted it inside the right post past a diving Nick Rimando just before halftime.
His goal ratcheted up the pressure after the intermission.
“We were defending for our lives at times,” Neal said.
Salt Lake kept attacking in the second half, keeping United’s defense on its heels. Those efforts nearly paid off in the 59th minute when Sebastian Velasquez unleashed a left-footed shot from distance that hit off the crossbar. That set up a corner kick for RSL, but the ball was cleared.
RSL had another good opportunity in the 81st minute when Kyle Beckerman chipped the ball to Alvaro Saborio near the right post. Saborio fired a quick volley, but his shot was knocked over the crossbar by Hamid.
Salt Lake’s final chance came in the 94th minute when Nat Borchers crossed to Devon Sandoval deep in the box. Sandoval sent a bicycle kick that Hamid caught.
“We can’t seem to get over that last hurdle,” RSL coach Jason Kreis said. “We scratched it out and did everything necessary to get to the point where we should have goal-scoring chances. It seemed like every single time, it just wasn’t going to happen.”
Earning the Cup for the first time had been a stated goal for Salt Lake all season. Now with the door to the CONCACAF Champions League closed, RSL is turning its attention to winning the Supporters’ Shield for best record or the MLS Cup.
Kreis hasn’t lost faith, believing his team can get the job done.
“I believe this team has what it takes to win all of our remaining matches and put ourselves in the very best possible spot to win the Supporters’ Shield,” Kreis said.