SANDY, Utah — “Unbelievable” was the word of the night after a late first-half goal by D.C. United defeated RSL in the U.S. Open Cup Final on Oct. 1.
“Unbelievable” could be heard uttered from the mouths of puzzled fans as they quietly left Rio Tinto Stadium. It could be seen on the field as the players, stunned from the night’s result, sat motionless for minutes after the final whistle.
Meanwhile, the visiting team, currently dead last in MLS standings with three wins in league play this season, poured onto the field and basked in the spoils of its one-goal victory.
“It is something I can’t really put my finger on,” said RSL head coach Jason Kreis. “How we can get so close and how we can have so much momentum through the majority of the season and we get to a game like this and we can’t seem to put things together. We can’t seem to get over that last hurdle.”
Real Salt Lake came into the game with momentum and energy after resting most of its starters in its previous match. The slow-paced start to the game was going the team’s way. The players went 44 minutes without allowing a single shot. The next minute altered the rest of the evening.
In the 45th minute, the night’s lone goal came as a deflected cross attempt from the left dropped in front of United MF Lewis Neal about 10 yards out. Neal placed the ball between two Real defenders to the far right post past a diving Nick Rimando, who couldn’t get across in time.
It quickly became the feel of the night: victory seemed just out of reach.
RSL controlled the pace of the game. It had multiple scoring opportunities in the first half and came even closer in the final 15 minutes. The team did whatever it wanted with the ball except put it in the net.
Attack after attack fell short, but they kept going back for more. Midfielder Ned Grabovoy had the ball just to the left of the goal about five yards out but then lost his dribble and gave it up to United goalkeeper Bill Hamid. Forward Devon Sandoval bicycled a shot right at Hamid soon after and forward Alvaro Saborio put one off the crossbar at the end of stoppage time. The ref’s whistle meant all efforts fell short.
Then came the worst part.
“I can’t believe we had to sit there on the field after the game and realize we came up short — again,” said Real defenseman Chris Wingert. “I don’t know if I have the words to describe how tough this is.”
The roller-coaster feel to the season struck another low point after Tuesday evening’s loss in the centennial Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup Final.
It was RSL’s first-ever final appearance of the country’s oldest soccer tournament. It defeated the lower-division Atlanta Silverbacks, USL Pro team Charleston Battery, NASL Carolina RailHawks and MSL rival Portland Timbers en route to the final. Real’s best previous finishes in Open Cup action include two quarterfinals losses in 2006 and 2011.
RSL now sets its sights solely on regaining the points lead for the Supporters’ Shield. The Claret-and-Cobalt must recover quickly for Saturday’s match. It hosts FC Dallas at 7 p.m. MDT in a match with playoff repercussions.