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United downs Charleston to take Coffee Pot Cup

First half goals from Maicon Santos and Ryan Richter and a late goal from Hamdi Salihi helped D.C. United to a comfortable 3-1 win tonight over the host Charleston Battery in their second match of the Carolina Challenge Cup. With the win tonight, United retains the Coffee Pot Cup in their annual competition with the Battery and also assured that only a draw will be needed on Saturday evening against the Columbus Crew for United to win their third consecutive Carolina Challenge Cup

Maicon Santos got the scoring started in the 13th minute as he was the benefactor of a great move in midfield from Branko Boskovic. The Montenegran midfielder easily sidestepped a pair of defenders and set Santos down the left flank. The striker drifted towards the box and unleashed his patented left-footed rocket past Battery goalkeeper Kevin Klasila for a 1-0 United lead. After the goal the hosts settled into the match and started taking the play to United and were rewarded with the equalizer in the 29th minute as United’s defense switched off momentarily. Trialist defender Jose Burciaga, Jr. got beat down the right flank by Battery midfielder Charlie Romero who raced to the end line and hit a picture perfect cross onto the head of Jose Cuevas who gave United goalkeeper Joe Willis no chance and drew the match level at 1-1

United didn’t sulk and reacted immediately as Burciaga, Jr. raced down his left flank and whipped in a cross that met the forehead of United trialist Ryan Richter and his bullet header gave United a 2-1 lead. Richter scored his second goal of the preseason and has gone a long way towards securing a valuable roster spot as his versatility has been on display throughout training camp.

After the break both teams made a number of substitutions that seemed to halt the match in its tracks. However, it picked up significantly in the 76th minute thanks to a vicious red card tackle from behind by Battery midfielder Mark Wiltsie on United midfielder Danny Cruz. Cruz lay on the ground for a few minutes before walking off with a noticeable limp as he was replaced by Daniel Woolard.

United didn’t take long to put the hammer down and finish off the match as Andy Najar took off on a nearly full-length of the pitch run towards the Battery’s end line. His give-and-go with Josh Wolff at the end line freed up the Honduran to square a ball to a wide open Hamdi Salihi to tap into the empty net for the final goal in United’s 3-1 win. Salihi has scored in both of his appearances in preseason so far and has lived up to the billing of his very high goal scoring rate in Europe.

United will now face the Columbus Crew with a chance to clinch the Cup on Saturday evening starting at 5pm . Thanks to Columbus’ draw with Charleston last Saturday and their 1-0 loss to Chicago earlier this evening, United only needs a draw to win the Carolina Challenge Cup. With head coach Ben Olsen essentially rotating his squad through the first two matches of this tournament, don’t be surprised if Olsen gives everyone in attendance a preview of his starting X1 for the home opener on March 10th at RFK Stadium.

The Coffee Pot Cup and Some Much Needed Credibility

Winless in the Carolina Challenge Cup so far, DC United really needs a good showing in their last tune-up before the regular season begins next weekend in LA. It is one thing to lose to decent MLS sides in a nothing pre-season tournament, but a loss to a lower division side in the very last match before the season begins is not exactly a confidence booster heading into LA in a week, not to mention the humiliating loss of the Coffee Pot Cup the team has owned since its inception.

The Coffee Pot Cup is that most treasured of any true Cup in that it has been established from a rivalry that has sprung up naturally between DC United and the Charleston Battery from Open Cup competition. An odd and virtually unique rivalry between an MLS and USL side created by the fans of each team that has stood the test of time as it has been contested for nearly a decade any time the two clubs meet in any competition.

So far, DC United lost the original match that sparked the Cup in 1999 as the Battery famously ousted DC United from the Open Cup that year, only to see United react badly and with detrimental effect on the Battery locker-rooms afterward. Still, DC won the actual Coffee Pot Cup created in by the fans in 2004, and has retained it by not being defeated by the Battery since.

Unfortunately, that streak could well be on the ropes as DC United is not playing well in this current tournament, and Charleston has every incentive for revenge, especially as United tore the actual Open Cup itself away from Charleston last season when the two teams met for the Dewar Trophy in the Open Cup final last season.

However, it is still gruesome that two sides that fought in the title game for the US Open Cup last season are both winless in this pre-season tournament and relegated to playing to see who avoids ending up on the bottom, however, the coveted Coffee Pot Cup could ease a multitude of angst for either team. Ironically, United could retain the Cup with a tie, but finish last in the tournament on goal differential since Charleston has been outscored a mere 4-2 so far, while DC has been drummed 5-1 heading into this last match.

And the Carolina Challenge Cup is no mere nothing tournament. Since this preseason tournament was founded in 2004, four of the five CCC champions have gone on to win one of Major League Soccer’s two trophies that same season: the Supporter’s Shield awarded to the club with the best regular season record (Columbus Crew 2004, San Jose Earthquakes 2005), and MLS Cup, (Houston Dynamo 2006, 2007). Only last year’s CCC winners, San Jose, failed to go on to capture one of the two league trophies.

The Battery is 0-1-2 versus D.C. United in Carolina Challenge Cup play. DC United has finished second the only three times it has entered the tournament having lost the original Carolina Challenge Cup final in 2004 on goal differential to the Columbus Crew, and DC finished second to the Earthquakes and Dynamo in 2005-6.

As for a little more in depth history on the Coffee Pot Cup if you’re interested, Charleston’s grudge against United began when DC traveled to Blackbaud stadium in 1999 for a preliminary round of the US Open Cup. At the time, United had been the first MLS team to win the Open Cup in ’96 and had gone to the final in ’97 losing to Dallas on penalties, but hadn’t played in the ’98 Cup due to international commitments which included winning the Inter-American Cup over Vasco da Gama. Now, perhaps taking the newly created lower division Battery a bit too lightly, DC was shocked by Charleston and lost 4-3. As the story goes, United players apparently tore up the visitors locker room afterward and among the casualties were a few coffee pots and shower heads which apparently perturbed the Battery coming so soon after christening their new home.

Now, United had thought they put the impudent Battery in their place with a resounding 4-0 thrashing in the Open Cup a year later in 2000, however, the pesky Battery fans would go on and on about their million to one victory and their lost coffee pots and shower heads. A friendly bickering amongst the fans that was to go on for the next four years until Charleston invited DC United to a pre-season tournament they created called the Carolina Challenge Cup in 2004, and the Coffee Pot Cup was born among the fans.

From that tournament forward, the winner of any competitive match between the two sides was to be awarded the Coffee Pot Cup, as well as much beer as it would hold, until the two sides met again. (Obviously, trophy made from a coffee pot was chosen as spoils for the victor because a shower head trophy would have very sketchy beer capacity and the Cup might have died right then and there.)

The their unending credit, the Battery fulfilled their end of the bargain, filling the original Coffee Pot Cup with beer as DC beat Charleston 2-1 in 2004, then stoically biding their time as DC held onto the cherished Cup until the present time thanks to a 2-2 tie in 2005, then a 1-1 tie in 2006, as well as a 2-0 win in a friendly that same year.

The original Cup has been steadily updated with plaques etched with the victors and the score, and has been kept in many a garage (including my own), yet lives on undaunted by its unspectacular surroundings and infrequent contests. An amusing little fan rivalry trinket that might well become one of those rare, innocently and authentically created, legendary pieces of soccer history, if matches of this stature continue well into the future of both clubs.