BOYDS, Md. – Had D.C. United shown even half of the spirit and fight exhibited by coach Ben Olsen following Tuesday night’s U.S. Open Cup fourth-round match against the Philadelphia Union, the quest for the club’s third- ever title would likely still be in the works.
Instead, D.C. United seemed stuck in mud for much of the night and, as a result, crashed out in a 2-1 overtime loss to their eastern conference rivals before 3,276 at the Maryland SoccerPlex.
Perhaps most telling in Olsen’s colorful post-game remarks was his admission that United were ‘lucky’ to even end up in the extra session.
Not to be lost in the combined 43 fouls, seven cards, and two ejections, was the fact that United never really looked the part of a team that sits atop the Eastern conference table with 27 points from 15 games, a full 19 points better than the Union.
“We were riding our luck there for awhile,” Olsen said about his side staying level with the Union through even in the first 45 minutes.
“The first half we should have gave up a couple. They had great chances. They had much more dangerous opportunities.”
Despite being outshot 8-2 in the first half, United managed to even things up just before the break when Andy Najar’s cross was headed back across the six-yard box by Nick DeLeon before Josh Wolff buried a header of his own for the 1-1 score line at the half.
Wolff’s goal was the tenth in his U.S. Open Cup career, which is good enough for sixth all-time in the modern pro era beginning in 1996.
United’s attack didn’t exactly come to life in the second-half either but the defense was able to slow down the Union until right before the end of regulation when second-half substitute Antoine Hoppenot nearly put the game away. Bill Hamid, left out to dry by his defense, came up with the crucial save to send the game into extra-time.
Less than two minutes into the first overtime session, former D.C. United midfielder Freddy Adu slipped a great ball in between United’s tired central defenders that ultimately found Hoppenot again, all alone, in on Hamid.
Hoppenot didn’t waste this chance as the rookie blasted his 92nd minute shot right by a helpless Hamid for the 2-1 lead. It was an advantage Philadelphia would refuse to give up in moving on to a quarterfinal matchup with the Harrisburg City Islanders on June 26.
The cynical, rough play that seemingly was evident from the opening whistle continued into the later stages until it finally boiled over when both United’s Brandon McDonald and the Union’s Carlos Valdes earned straight red cards after a shoving incident in the 112th minute.
Afterwards Olsen wasn’t blaming the referees for his team’s elimination but he wasn’t signing their praises either.
“It was a typical Open Cup game,” Olsen said.
“The referees were lousy; they always are – for both teams. Every Open Cup game, it just turns into an absolute circus.”
The U.S. Open Cup, which is in its 99th edition, was perhaps the most likely route for United to qualify for the 2013-14 regional champions league. It’s also the last trophy that the club has lifted (2008).
Now that qualification will come down to advancing to MLS Cup, something the Black-and-Red haven’t done since winning it in 2004, or taking home the Supporter’s Shield. United last accomplished that feat in 2007.
“I’m disappointed,” Olsen said afterwards.
“I love the Open Cup. I wanted to go far in this tournament and I am gutted in that respect.”
From there United’s coach was able to find a silver lining.
“Maybe it’s a good reminder to the players and a good reminder to myself that we need to get back to working hard and doing some of the things that got us some success.”
Follow @BobbyBancroft for more D.C. United updates