SOCCER MATTERS

Houston Dynamo win 2018 U.S. Open Cup

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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Jose Abreu looks lost at the plate. Composite Getty Image.

It’s a long baseball season, sure the Astros have started 4-8, and there are plenty of fingers to point around. But there’s no need to push the panic button.

Not yet.

Last year, the Astros didn’t start much better – they were 5-7 after a dozen games. It just seemed different, though. Nobody was wringing hands over the slow start. After all, the Astros were the defending World Series champions, coming off a 106-win season and figured to make mincemeat of the American League West again. Business as usual.

This year is different. The Astros are losing games in very un-Astros-like fashion. While the starting pitching has been surprisingly fine, at least the starters healthy enough to take the field, the bullpen has been a mess. The back end relievers, supposedly the strongest in all of baseball, have been disappointing. Bryan Abreu’s earned run average is 5.79. Ryan Pressly’s ERA is a sky-high 11.57 and closer Josh Hader, the best shutdown in the bigs, is at 6.00. The Astros are losing games late.

The Astros starting rotation is comprised mostly of seat-fillers. The Astros are sitting in the doctor’s waiting room for Justin Verlander, Framber Valdez, Jose Urquidy, Luis Garcia and Lance McCullers to be declared fit for battle. McCullers’ contribution to the team in recent years has primarily been confined to H-E-B commercials.

Impatient fans and copy-hungry media need a target to blame for the Astros’ slow start and they’ve zero’d in on first baseman Jose Abreu.

For good reason. Abreu, 37, a former American League MVP, is being paid 19.5 million this year and next. He is having a miserable time at the plate. Originally slated for No. 5 in the batting order, now dropped to No. 7 and sinking in the west, Abreu is hitting a paltry .088. But that number actually is deceptively positive. He has three hits (all singles) in 34 at bats, with 12 strikeouts, no home runs and no RBI. Frankly one of Abreu's singles was a pity hit from a friendly scorekeeper who could have given Royals shortstop Bobby Witt Jr. an error on Abreu’s weak grounder Tuesday night.

We can go all-analytics and brain-busting stats to explain Abreu’s troubles at the plate. But let’s use simple baseball language: Abreu is horrible. He’s done. Maybe it’s time for the Astros to cut bait. He is untradeable.

Abreu had a disastrous 2023 season, batting .237, the lowest average of his 11-year career. But after 12 games last year, he was hitting .271, not bad at all. Or as Larry David would say, pret-tay, pret-tay, pre-tay good.

This year he’s fallen off the end of the Earth. Fans groan as he swings meekly at breaking balls outside the zone. Or he fails to catch up to 95 mph-plus. Or he can’t connect on low inside pitches. Look, when you’re batting .088, it’s all bad.

Last year, the Astros actually had two, as Little Leaguers put it, automatic outs in the lineup. Abreu hit .237 and catcher Martin Maldonado blasted .191.

This year, it’s a tight battle between who’s the worst of the worst. Maldy is hitting .091 with two hits in 22 at bats and no RBI for Abreu’s old team, the Chicago White Sox. Abreu is hitting .088 for Maldonado’s old team, the Astros. This could go down to the last week of the season.

If Abreu is still with the Astros at season’s end. The Astros are no longer the high exalted dominant force in the American League West. They can’t afford an .088 hitter in the lineup. They can’t play eight against nine.

It didn’t help when manager Joe Espada recently said, “I got a ton of confidence in Abreu. I'm not going to talk about strategy. José Abreu has been a really good hitter for a very long time, and I have 100 percent confidence in José that, at some point, he's going to start hitting.”

How long is at some point? Didn’t Astros fans go through this last year with manager Dusty Baker refusing to sit Maldonado despite Maldy killing rallies in a tight pennant race?

The Astros don’t have a strong support system, especially backing Abreu at first base. But there are options. Mauricio Dubon is a jack of all trades. He could play first. Despite the funny line in Moneyball, first base statistically is the easiest position to play in baseball. Backup catcher Victor Caratini can fill the gap until the Astros sign a free agent first baseman.

Or the Astros could do something that would light a fire under fans: call up rookie Joey Loperfido, who’s belted five homers and driven in 13 RBI in 10 games for the Sugar Land Space Cowboys.

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