SOCCER MATTERS

Houston Dynamo win 2018 U.S. Open Cup

Damarcus Beasley and the Dynamo celebrate winning the U.S. Open Cup. Photo courtesy of Nigel Brooks

The Houston Dynamo ended a 10 year title drought as a 3-0 win over the Philadelphia Union crowned them the 2018 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup Champions.

Mauro Manotas scored two goals in the 4th and 25th minutes to give the Dynamo the lead at halftime before an Auston Trusty own goal secured the victory in the 65th minute. The Dynamo forward also extended his season total to 20 goals across all competitions - the only player in team history to accomplish that in a single season.

“The team was spectacular,” said Manotas. “The mentality with which we came out was what we needed. When the team is involved and committed, nobody can beat us. Today we showed it.”

The Open Cup title - the club’s first major championship since the 2007 MLS Cup - is the first trophy with the club for all members of the roster as no players remain from that famed group that won back-to-back MLS titles. Ricardo Clark, the last player remaining from that team, was not extended in the offseason.

Manotas, 23, is part of a young crop of players that look to bring success through the next couple of years. Midfielder Tomas Martinez, 23, Defender Alejandro Fuenmayor, 22, and MLS All-Star Forward Alberth Elis, 22, were the other players under the age of 25 in the team’s starting lineup.

Despite the double, Manotas also attributed the win to the return of fellow Colombian and 2017 Team MVP Juan David Cabezas. The 27-year-old Cabezas has missed 25 MLS matches this season and his absence has been felt as the team is all but eliminated from the playoff race.

“The team recognized that it was time to stop committing the same mistakes from past games,” said Cabezas. “It was a beautiful opportunity for us to set a different tone for the season. In the regular season, it has not been easy. Having the championship so close, we said that we needed to put in our all and, surely, would celebrate after. Celebrating is what we are doing now.”

The title is also a first for some Houston area natives. Houston born Arturo Alvarez, 33, Spring’s Tyler Deric, 30, and Wharton’s Memo Rodriguez, 22, are the first Dynamo players with local roots to receive a medal with the team, the latter two being products of the Academy.

For veterans like 34-year-old Oscar Boniek Garcia, the longest tenured Dynamo on the roster in his seventh season with the club, and 36-year-old DaMarcus Beasley the trophy was a long time coming. The four-time FIFA World Cup veteran Beasley picked up his third U.S. Open Cup title - his first club title in eight years - and was one of three players in the starting XI with cup experience alongside goalkeeper Joe Willis, a 2013 winner with D.C. United, and defender Philippe Senderos, who won the 2004–05 FA Cup with English giant Arsenal.

“The players, the coaches put so much effort into trying to win this cup,” said Beasley. “And it’s even sweeter because of the season we’ve been having. Like I said before, this doesn’t save our season, but at the same time, it feels damn good to win this cup, to be champions.”

What is the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup?

In it’s 105th edition, the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup is the oldest soccer competition in the United States. An amateur tournament for much of its history, the Open Cup is a national knockout tournament contested annually by teams in all divisions of American soccer throughout the course of the regular season.

Like the AFC Championship in the National Football League, the U.S. Open Cup is named after the iconic business owner Lamar Hunt. Hunt was one of the driving forces in American soccer and his family owns the Major League Soccer club FC Dallas, who now houses the National Soccer Hall of Fame.

While the MLS Cup is the premier title in U.S. soccer, the Open Cup is still a prestigious championship and one that comes with similar benefits - a $300,000 prize and a spot in the Concacaf Champions League next season.

What does it mean for the Dynamo?

The Dynamo became the first professional sports team to lift a trophy on Houston soil since the 2000 Houston Comets and the first men’s team to do so since the 1994-95 Houston Rockets.

Next year, the Dynamo will play in a third competition - and start the season one month sooner in February - as this title qualifies them to the 2019 Concacaf Champions League. While their opponent is yet to be determined, the team will have to opportunity to have international fixtures against competition from either Canada, Mexico, Central America or the Caribbean.

The lowest spender in MLS, the Dynamo Head Coach Wilmer Cabrera has already stated that the team will need to be appropriately reinforced in the offseason to be able to compete.

 

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ROCKETS BEAT THUNDER

Rockets blast Thunder in home opener, 124-91

Rockets take care of business in home opener. Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images.

The Houston Rockets had an impressive outing versus the Oklahoma City Thunder after an embarrassing loss against the Minnesota Timberwolves Wednesday night. They took care of business at home on Friday night, which was a surprising blowout. The Rockets didn't have to worry about Karl-Anthony Towns screaming at Alperen Sengun or Anthony Edwards telling Coach Silas to call a timeout. Instead, they took their frustrations out on the Thunder (another younger core).

"We responded and bounced back from that game 1," Silas said. "I wouldn't say it was taking anything out. It was just learning and applying to what you learn and that's going to be us this year. Applying to what you learn and getting better and having some games like we had the other day. Veteran teams have some games when they don't play as well they want."

Christian Wood led the way, as he controlled the paint on all aspects with rebounding and putbacks. He played an incredible game after having a poor performance versus the Timberwolves. Silas showed complete trust in allowing Wood to open sets, as he walked the ball down the court several times, and in transition too. Wood became aggressive on the perimeter with open shooting and tough shots, and long strides towards the rim. He finished the night with 31 points and 13 rebounds off 66 percent shooting from the field.

The young core for the Thunder had a tough night defending Wood from every aspect. Hopefully, he keeps this play up. Silas loved the space that was created throughout the game for Wood, which included the help from Eric Gordon, as he continued to play better. Wood continues to develop underneath the Silas umbrella. He had a great feel for off-the-dribble shooting a few times. Wood becomes more dangerous when space is created on the court.

"It allows me to show what I can do. It allows the floor to be open and I can create for other guys and create for myself," Wood said.

As Gordon continues to impress, his teammate Kevin Porter Jr was amazed with his performance.

Gordon looked marvelous inside and outside of the paint, as it looked like a time ripple. The younger guards of the Thunder had a tough time staying in front of Gordon. His size and strength gave the Thunder a huge problem. Gordon is shooting the ball better too, as he is shooting the three-ball at 70 percent this season. Although it's a small sample size, Gordon is trying to overcome his shooting struggles from last year. Gordon finished with 22 points on 66 percent shooting versus the Thunder.

"EG is the biggest part of this squad," Porter said. He comes in and just scores. We need somebody off the bench to do that. He is our guy when me and J come out, it's EG time and he knows that, and comes in aggressive. So much energy on the bench, and we need that every night from him if we want a chance to win."

As I recently mentioned Porter, his facilitation did look better versus the Thunder than the Timberwolves. Porter had nine turnovers in his first game but managed to have two Friday night. He made great slip passes and found open teammates in the open corner. Porter forced a good number of passes versus the Timberwolves but looked more relaxed Friday night. The hardest position in the NBA is the point guard position, but Silas will not allow Porter to fail. Instead of nine turnovers, Porter dished out nine assists. Silas said:

"Bounce back right, going from nine turnovers to nine assists… I think he had two turnovers tonight, which is great. He is making plays for his teammates, and he was really focused."

Porter's shiftiness and creative ability allowed his teammates to get open looks near the rim. He had 18 points because of his step-back threes and first step going towards the basket. Thankfully, Porter is a great ball handler, which confuses defenders on different spots on the court. It's almost like watching a ballerina skate on ice in the Olympics. Hopefully, his confidence continues to get better throughout the year. Porter shot the three-ball at 50 percent tonight. Efficiency is key for Porter this year.

"I'm just trying to let the game slow down," Porter said. "I had a lot of turnovers last game and I just wanted to piggyback and learn from them and learn from some of my forced passes and reads. And sometimes I still force it a little bit. My guys hate that, and sometimes I'm still passive and I'm working on that. When to pass and score and bounce it out, and tonight I felt like I did a good job of that."

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