Sandy • The streamers rained down on the players celebrating joyously, arm in arm, in front of their fans in a corner of Rio Tinto Stadium. Championship T-shirts were passed around. Workers moved quickly to assemble a stage for the trophy presentation.
And once again, Real Salt Lake was forced to watch.
With a chance at its first ever Open Cup title and a return ticket to CONCACAF Champions League on the line, RSL dominated possession and created more scoring opportunities but still faltered at home Tuesday night, falling to D.C. United 1-0.
“This is a brutal game sometimes,” RSL coach Jason Kreis said afterward.
After squandering opportunities to lift trophies in front of home fans in a pair of big games — the 2008 Western Conference final against New York, then agonizingly in the 2011 Champions League final against Monterrey — RSL was resolved not to let it happen again, especially against Major League Soccer’s last place team.
But D.C.’s split personality had been on display throughout the tournament.
Despite a dismal showing through the first six months of regular season play — specifically a league worst three wins for the last place United — D.C. had somehow saved its best for the Open Cup.
The team needed penalty kicks to beat the lower division Richmond Kickers, but United went on to beat MLS opponents New England, Philadelphia and Chicago.
Salt Lake proved no different.
RSL controlled the game — and once again D.C. left an opponent stunned.
A 45th minute shot took a deflection off a defender Carlos Salcedo, and the loose ball hung around in the box just a moment too long for RSL. D.C.’s Lewis Neal charged and fired a left-footed strike to the far post, beyond the fingers of a diving Nick Rimando.
“Sometimes that’s soccer,” a somber Tony Beltran said in the locker room. “I think it paints a perfect picture that half the guys on D.C. walked up to me after the game and said, ‘You guys are the better team. It just didn’t go your way today.’”
As the second half opened, RSL pushed hard for an equalizer.
Salt Lake had been through plenty already in the 100th edition of America’s largest soccer tournament. The team had fallen behind against lower division clubs, needing extra time twice, but RSL had always found an equalizer - and then a game-winner.
But not Tuesday, to the dismay of most of the 17,608 on hand to witness it.
Alvaro Sabrio, back on the field for the first time in more than a month, skied for crosses but couldn’t put them on frame. Nat Borchers pushed a header wide.
Sebastian Velasquez, playing in place of usual starter Luis Gil, fired a left-footed shot that took a deflection and smacked metal where the crossbar met the left post.
In the 81st, Saborio blasted a shot that Bill Hamid pushed over the woodwork.
Late in the game, searching desperately for a goal, Kreis took off a defender and brought in Devon Sandoval, the rookie forward, who led the team with three goals for RSL during its run to the Open Cup final. Sandoval nearly played hero with a stoppage time bicycle kick, but once again Hamid was there to save it.
RSL outshot D.C. 19-6 and held 70 percent of the possession, but couldn’t find a goal.
“Unfortunately that’s the only thing that matters,” Kreis said.
“It’s the only statistic that matters. It’s the only thing anybody will remember.”
D.C. United 1, RSL 0
D.C. United 1 0 — 1
Real Salt Lake 0 0 — 0
First half » 1, D.C. United, Neal, 45th minute.
Second half » None.
Goalies » Real Salt Lake, Nick Rimando; D.C. United, Bill Hamid.
Yellow Cards • Riley, D.C. United, 21st; Beckerman, RSL, 45+2; DeLeon, D.C. United, 58th; Chris Korb, D.C. United, 80th; Rimando, RSL, 90th.
Referee • Juan Guzman. Assistant Referees • Kermit Quisenberry, Fabio Tovar, Baldomero Toledo.
Real Salt Lake • Nick Rimando, Tony Beltran, Nat Borchers, Carlos Salcedo (Devon Sandoval 81st), Chris Wingert, Kyle Beckerman, Sebastian Velasquez (Khari Stephenson 69th), Ned Grabavoy, Javier Morales, Alvaro Saborio, Joao Plata (Olmes Garcia, 57th).
D.C. United • Bill Hamid, Chris Korb, Ethan White, Dejan Jakovic, James Reily, Lewis Neal, John Thorrington, Perry Kitchen, Nick DeLeon, Dwayne De Rosario (Luis Silva 75th), Chris Pontius (Conor Doyle 87th).
Recent Open Cup winners
2013 • D.C. United
2012 • Sporting Kansas City
2011 • Seattle Sounders
2010 • Seattle Sounders
2009 • Seattle Sounders
2008 • D.C. United
2007 • New England Revolution
2006 • Chicago Fire
2005 • Los Angeles Galaxy
2004 • Kansas City Wizards
2003 • Chicago Fire