• The Houston Dynamo salvaged something out of an otherwise lost season, lifting the U.S. Open Cup trophy for the first time as a franchise, while the Philadelphia Union were dealt heartbreak for the third time in five seasons.
By Avi Creditor
September 26, 2018

The Houston Dynamo have won MLS Cups before, but for the first time, the franchise is now a U.S. Open Cup champion.

The Dynamo beat the Philadelphia Union 3-0 in Wednesday night's final, capturing the trophy and dealing their opponent a third setback in the Open Cup final in the last five years after an extra-time loss to Seattle in 2014 and a penalty-kick loss to Sporting Kansas City in 2015. Mauro Manotas was the Union's chief adversary in the 2018 final, scoring two first-half goals to lead the way. Auston Trusty's unfortunate own goal padded the lead in the 66th minute, and the Dynamo saw out the win from there at their own BBVA Compass Stadium. 

To the winner goes a Concacaf Champions League berth and $300,000 in prize money, with Houston emerging out of a group of 97 entrants to become the first first-time winner since Seattle in 2009. The win also provides another notch on the belt for 36-year-old veteran fullback DaMarcus Beasley, who won Open Cups in 2000 and 2003 with the Chicago Fire, only to win again a decade and a half later. It's the 13th club trophy of his storied career.

Here are three thoughts on the Dynamo's Open Cup final triumph:

Mauro Manotas, Open Cup machine

Manotas doesn't have the same MLS profile as some of the other double-digit scorers in the league, but he's carved out a nice level of production in the last couple of seasons–and the 23-year-old really shines on the Open Cup stage. With his first-half double, he tied a record for most goals in a single Open Cup tournament in the modern era with six, and that came on the heels of his three goals in 2016 and another in 2015. He won the competition's golden boot and now has 20 goals in all competitions this season.

His fourth-minute goal gave Houston a dream start, and it came almost immediately after the Union thought it had taken the lead, only to have a goal rightly disallowed for offiside. He was active even before that, though, setting up Juan David Cabezas for a good look from the edge of the box for the game's first warning shot.

He grew in confidence after the opener, taking on a pair of Union defenders before lashing a clinical, low finish into the far corner. After 26 minutes, the match was well in hand. 

You also wonder what impact Manotas's presence had on Trusty's own goal. After Romell Quioto had his shot parried by Andre Blake, Manotas lingered, in path of the loose ball. Trusty instinctively tried to clear the ball to safety but wound up putting it in his own net, hurrying his actions. It's certainly possible that the threat of Manotas, after what he'd already done, altered the timing just enough to make the difference.

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This match was the Dynamo's season

There won't be MLS playoffs for Houston, which was a given back when it was challenging for MLS Cups under Dom Kinnear. There was so much promise for the club entering this season, especially on the heels of a run to the Western Conference final last season. But Cabezas, such a key component of that 2017 team, was hurt 15 minutes into a season-opening 4-0 win over Atlanta United, which feels like it couldn't have possibly happened this year. After two scattered substitute appearances and one start last weekend as he recovered from a thigh injury, he made another start on Wednesday. The result wasn't a coincidence.

But as it stands, Houston is 12 points out of the final playoff spot in the west with five games to go. Elimination could come as soon as this weekend. This was the last way to salvage what's been an otherwise lost campaign, and credit to coach Wilmer Cabrera and his side for getting it done. CCL matches await, and a proper trophy returns to Houston for the first time since the 2007 MLS Cup.

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Deja vu, part trois

For a third time in five seasons, the Union are left walking away with runner-up medals and a consolation cash prize (which, this year, was $100,000). Entering the match, it felt like it wouldn't go this way. The Union are enjoying their best regular season as a franchise and have finally found a successful formula. They were coming off consecutive wins over the Seattle Sounders–ending their nine-game winning streak–and Sporting Kansas City–which is challenging for the top seed in the west–and full of confidence (ironically, those were the two sides to previously conquer the Union in Open Cup finals).

The Union were well-rested Wednesday, with manager Jim Curtin sitting a number of starters against SKC. Houston, meanwhile, operated like business as usual last weekend, though it didn't show with the energy and tenaciousness it displayed. The Union's response to having a goal overturned due to a correct offside call wasn't great, and the defensive effort of Jack Elliott and Trusty left much to be desired on Manotas's goals. Outside of that, the Union spurned the few chances they did have, never really threatening to get back into the match after going down two goals so early.

So instead of having the euphoria of lifting that elusive trophy, Philadelphia goes back home empty-handed, again. You just wonder how much it will impact their run-in to the playoffs from a psychological aspect and how much, if at all, it undoes the building it's done to this point in 2018.