Call it what you want - Wigan 2.0, the freak of nature, the outlier - but Tuesday night, D.C. United, the club that's managed just 15 points in 30 league matches this season, became the first entry in the 2014-2015 CONCACAF Champions League by virtue of their 1-0 victory in the final of the US Open Cup.
Every year, come June or July, the discussion starts: is it worth it? What's the value of the Open Cup, really? Many MLS clubs use reserve players, and though they're often the last clubs standing (there have been what, three non-MLS clubs in the final since the league came about?), the tournament is viewed by many as a joke - and many of those people are pointing to this result as proof of this.
Let me preface this by saying that I've probably been on the record on both sides of this debate, depending on how the Houston Dynamo are doing. Other fanbases probably feel similar. If their club looks like they're taking it seriously, the fans will as well. If they don't - well, if it looks like the club doesn't care, then why should the fans?
This is why. For one night, at least, Lewis Neal and DCU were the toast of American soccer. With nothing else to really play for, they put their heart into this tournament - including the debacle of losing 4-1 to Toronto last weekend with a squad of reserves while their normal starters rested up for this Cup final - and won some silverware against a strong Real Salt Lake side that is still in the hunt for both the Supporters Shield and the MLS Cup.
Was it simply the fact that they were already so far out of the league race that caused DCU to focus on the Cup? You can't help but think it played a role in it. But every year, Shield and MLS Cup contending clubs like RSL, Seattle and Kansas City have also made runs at the Open Cup. Why? If it's as second rate as some people claim, why put forth the effort?
If you want to know that answer, go ask a DCU supporter today. And congratulate them while you're at it. In a season where so much had gone wrong, they found something that went right. And maybe that's the lesson everyone else can take from this. They never gave up in this pursuit, and they have the silverware to prove it. I say good for them. Maybe it's a lesson we can learn from, as well.
I'm curious to know what DT readers think. Is the Open Cup a sideshow, or should it be a legitimate target in coming years? I'm starting to be think it should be, but I'm open to any arguments.