Only one side in our 2023 Final knows the feeling of lifting a U.S. Open Cup.
The 2018 Houston Dynamo rode a wave of home games, the leadership of USMNT icon DaMarcus Beasley and the goals of Mauro Manotas to a first major trophy for the Texas club in over a decade.
“The ultimate thing is to win,” said Beasley, who would call time on his playing career in 2019 after lifting the Open Cup for the third time (he won two early in his career with the Chicago Fire). “You remember winning. If you win a championship or an Open Cup you did something right.”
Beasley, Dynamo’s captain in that Open Cup-winning year at the ripe old age of 36, wore a huge smile after raising the trophy on home soil on September 26, 2018. Amid the celebrations he seemed transported to the days of his youth, when, back in his first year with the Fire in 2000, he lifted our Open Cup for the first time.
The road to a Cup is never simple. Or predictable.
Few would have picked Houston Dynamo to lift any silverware in 2018. They struggled through MLS’ regular season, eventually missing the postseason playoffs. But they caught the right kind of wind in the Open Cup – where momentum, guts and, of course, the luck of the draw make all the difference.
Coached by Wilmer Cabrera that year, and with aging Swiss international Phillipe Senderos in the squad, the Dynamo opened their Open Cup account against Dallas-area amateurs NTX Rayados – a team of former college players, many of them school teachers and administrators in their workaday lives.
Cabrera put out a youthful side for that Fourth Rounder on June 6th. And they eventually blew the underdog Rayados, fixtures and favorites of our tournament, off the park at BBVA Stadium (now Shell Energy Stadium).
We saw the first glimpses of homegrown starlet Memo Rodriguez in that game. Once a ball-kid for the Dynamo, he scored twice in the 5-0 rout to help set the stage for the trophy run to come.
Another key element to the 2018 title run fell into place for the Dynamo ten days later. Colombian striker Mauro Manotas scored his first of what would eventually become a tournament-best six-goals.
His lone strike came right after the halftime interval and sent the Dynamo past MLS newcomers Minnesota United and through to the Quarterfinals. And there, once again, the fates favored them with a home game.
This one, by contrast, was a goal feast. Romell Quito scored twice in a 4-2 win over defending 2017 Open Cup champions Sporting Kansas City. The lean and speedy Manotas bagged the other two goals to move up the scoring charts ahead of a crucial Semifinal, again with a home-field advantage, against league darlings (and heavy favorites) LAFC.
The Southern California powerhouse, playing in their first season in MLS, were desperately hunting a first-ever crown to start life in the top flight. And a Dynamo side, flagging in league play and seeming resigned to a one-front fight, looked like they might have reached the end of their Open Cup road.
Diego Rossi put the LA men up after only six minutes.
Goal-Fest Drops LAFC
From there, the game spun wide open. Goals tumbled out of the humid Houston night.
Manotas scored his fourth of the tournament before a 95th minute equalizer (3-3) sealed Rossi’s hat-trick. It sent the game to extra-time and, eventually, penalties.
Perhaps the pressure of the occasion got to LAFC who, if they won, would have hosted that year’s Final at their brand-new stadium. Laurent Ciman and little Latif Blessing – a champion the year before with Sporting KC – missed their penalties as Houston moved on to a first-ever Open Cup Final.
And yes, you guessed, it was at home again.
“If this game turns into a track meet – up and down – we’re in big trouble,” were the fateful words of Philadelphia Union boss Jim Curtin the day before the decider. “It’s important that we keep it tight.”
Keep it tight, they did not.
Houston speed-merchants Quioto, Oscar Boniek Garcia and Alberth Ellis were a blur on that sweltering night in late September. Manotas had the ball in the net inside five minutes and a Union side, led even then by Alejandro Bedoya and Andre Blake, were pinned back early.
The Union were treading water by the time Manotas hit his second in the 25th minute. Austin Trusty’s own goal in the 65th minute ended the contest (3-0)
It was Houston’s first title since the 2006 and 2007 back-to-back MLS Cup triumphs – and a first U.S. Open Cup in club history.
“This one feels damn good,” Beasley said while his teammates celebrated around him after the final whistle, minutes before lifting his last trophy as a player. “It’s something I’ll never forget. To be champions is special, and I’m so glad everyone [in the team] can feel this.”
For the defeated Philadelphia, it was a third loss in an Open Cup Final since starting life in MLS. it’s a tradition they’ve yet to shake to this day.
Not a single player survives from that 2018 side to today’s Houston Dynamo, a squad rebuilt strong in the image of new coach Ben Olsen.
A master motivator, Olsen – working with GM Pat Onstad, a member of the 1999 Rochester Rhinos who famously won the Open Cup as a second-division team in the MLS era – has built his team around Mexico international Hector Herrera and Panama sensation Adalberto ‘Coco’ Carrasquilla.
A raft of interesting attacking options, like young Americans Corey Baird and Nigerian Ibrahim Aliyu, also make the Dynamo a dangerous proposition for Lionel Messi and his star-studded Inter Miami in this year’s Final.
Playing away from home – in suddenly fashionable Fort Lauderdale – the Dynamo are comfortable with their underdog label.
“Judging by what Miami has done, I think they have to be called the favorites,” Carrasquilla told usopencup.com. “But Houston is creating an identity, becoming something to talk about too – and I have total trust in my teammates that we have what it takes to win.”
“Trophies talk,” added Olsen, who won the Open Cup as a player and a coach during his days with D.C. United. “When the fans see you holding a trophy, it’s special. And that doesn’t go away.”
Coach knows that better than most. So too do the Dynamo fans.Fontela is editor-in-chief of usopencup.com. Follow him at @jonahfontela on Twitter.