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.

 

HOUSTON ELIMINATED FROM CHAMPIONS LEAGUE

5 quick kicks from Dynamo at Tigres UANL

Alberth Elis and the Houston Dynamo could not overturn a 0-2 deficit against Tigres UANL. Photo by Diego Dlouhy/SportsMap Houston

The Houston Dynamo were eliminated from the Concacaf Champions League after a 0-1 loss (0-3 agg.) against Tigres UANL on Tuesday night. Mexican National Team defender Carlos Salcedo, a former player for MLS club Real Salt Lake, scored the only goal of the match in the 68th minute.

Here are five observations from the loss in Mexico:

1) Had a chance, never took advantage

The Dynamo fared off better on the road than they did a week ago when they lost the first leg at home by a two-nil scoreline. Obviously, the advantage on the scoreboard kept Tigres from being more aggressive but Houston never pounced. Out of the ten shots generated, only one was on target.

Tommy McNamara missed two opportunities in the first half, Mauro Manotas missed a great opportunity in the 50th minute and Alberth Elis could only get about one decent shot off. Getting a goal would have made a very talented, albeit underachieving, Tigres team uneasy with the pressure of getting shocked in front of the home fans.

Unfortunately for the traveling fans, the Dynamo never capitalized on that opportunity. The team was unable to make due of the opportunities they did have (knowing beforehand those would be limited anyway) and lacked that "nothing to lose" gambler's attitude. At least they didn't get blown out, I suppose.

2) Injuries play a part again

Team Captain DaMarcus Beasley had to be subbed off in the 20th minute because of an injury. Fellow defender Maynor Figuroa also had to be substituted due to injury late in the second half. Playmaker Tomas Martinez was left on the bench due to taking licks in the team's MLS opener and the team's most valuable player (arguably) Juan David Cabezas didn't even travel because he has yet to recover from an injury in the club's Champions League opener.

Would a healthy squad fully made a difference against one of the top teams in the region? Maybe it wouldn't. What can be said is that this is a nagging issue that will keep haunting the squad all season if nothing is done about it. The team has essentially expressed that the roster will remain untouched until the summer and doesn't count on an Academy that pumps out MLS-ready players. It may just be easier to start selling replica crutches in the Dynamo team store.

3) CCL run could help MLS season

The Dynamo were never going to win the Concacaf Champions League. In fact, they were the least likely of the MLS sides to come away with the trophy. What this run did afford them was an earlier start to the season and a great test against one of the region's best teams.

A big benefit that has already been seen is a good start to the season. Four points out of six are a good with another three potentially waiting on Saturday against a Vancouver Whitecaps FC club that has won in Houston only once. What the Dynamo can take away from this experience is the confidence that they fared well against a side who play at a level well beyond most MLS teams. If they can translate the workload they've put in these last couple of weeks, there's no reason why they should't just make the playoffs but finish top four in their conference.

4) Figueroa, Lundqvist stand out

Maynor Figueroa left the Estadio Universitario limping and his status going forward is uncertain. Putting that aside, he may be the Dynamo's most important offseason acquisition - at least up to this point. He has appeared in every match and has brought security, leadership and an edge to a backline that desperately needed all the help in the world. Whether he stays on the field or hits the shelf for awhile, Figueroa may have already fulfilled the expectations the team had for him. Still, the 35-year-old Honduran National Team Captain has plenty left in the tank - as he's shown in the first games of the season.

Another player that could make his mark on the Dynamo in 2019 is left back Adam Lundqvist. Coming on for Beasley in the first half, the Swedish player has waited in the wings for enough time. He's definitely not the finished product but there is very little, if any, dropoff from Beasley and it may just be time to get the player more minutes.

5) Other takeaways from the experience

It would be a mistake to write about the trip to Mexico without acknowledging the passion of the local fans. How can the Dynamo inspire that type of a following and develop similar traditions? Simply by taking the initiative.

Several of the gameday traditions that Tigres has can be emulated by the club. Asking fans to turn on the flashlight setting on their cellphones during games, getting the rest of the stadium more involved in chants and investing money into the team are just a few ways to creating that type of environment. Easier said than done, yes, but not impossible as other MLS teams have shown.

Dynamo player of the game: Maynor Figueroa

The offseason newcomer stood out the most with some good clearances to keep the Dynamo in the game.

Next up:

Saturday, March 16th vs. Vancouver Whitecaps FC (2 p.m. CT, KUBE57)

Correction: An earlier version of this article erroneously stated that Vancouver Whitecaps FC had never won in Houston. That has since been corrected to reflect Vancouver's 2-1 win on March 10, 2018 at BBVA Compass Stadium.

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