He was just getting started.
It’s the 88th minute and the 18-year-old in the baggy red long-sleeved jersey surges down the left wing and sends over a hopeful low cross that hapless Miami Fusion defender Tyrone Marshall turns into his own net.
Arms aloft in triumph, the kid sprints to the stands to celebrate with the delirious Chicago Fire fans who know in that moment that the 2000 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup is theirs.
DaMarcus Beasley, then a swift and lithe attacker three months away from winning his first U.S. cap, played the full 90 minutes in that 2-1 victory in the final at Soldier Field. He did so again in the 2003 showpiece when the Fire upset the New York/New Jersey MetroStars 1-0 at Giants Stadium.
Beasley has garnered plenty of accolades in his long career and he has the chance to add another to the list when the Dynamo host the Philadelphia Union in the 2018 Open Cup final at BBVA Compass Stadium on September 26th (TICKETS).
That victory eighteen years ago was Beasley’s first team honor as a professional; the first building block of a rock-solid legacy which includes national cup titles in the Netherlands with PSV Eindhoven and Scotland with Rangers FC.
“You never forget the feeling of winning. You don’t forget the feeling of losing as well, but you never forget the feeling of what it felt like to win a championship,” he said last week at the Dynamo training ground.
It’s a jumble of emotions: the adrenalin rush of instant gratification but also the satisfaction of a meticulous long-term plan being realized. “Our main job as a professional – and you hear any professional say it – you’re in the sport to win. So the excitement, relief, the preseason all the work you put in, stuff you do in the offseason, to get to that moment, to get to that final, is what every athlete wants,” Beasley said.
In a sport brimming with intense debate and divergent opinions, a trophy win is a cold, hard, unarguable fact. Unimpeachable proof of excellence. “You feel you achieved something as a team and the fact that no one can take that away from you is the best feeling,” he added.
Five years after Beasley’s debut success and thousands of miles away across the Atlantic, another current Dynamo defender felt something similar in a higher-profile context: the oldest national soccer competition in the world, the English FA Cup. Philippe Senderos’s Arsenal beat Manchester United at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff, Wales. The center back was only 20 years old.
“It was a massive thing for me that year. It was my breakthrough season, my second season and I was really happy to be able to play in the early rounds and to keep my place for the semifinal and the final,” the former Switzerland player recalled.
“Eventually on penalties we got the win and it was a great moment for me in my career, it gave me that taste of winning a trophy.” It’s not a feeling he’s experienced since despite spells at some of Europe’s biggest teams and an international career that has encompassed three World Cups.
So – as anyone who’s seen him in the tournament this year can tell – Senderos is highly motivated to savor more success. “We know the history behind this competition and what it means for this club that’s never been to the final. It’s huge for this club,” the 33-year-old said.
Beasley concurs: “The guys that haven’t won a championship, like the young ones, when they do get a taste of it I hope it stays with them for the rest of their career. They want to feel that way again, they know what it took to get to that level. Man, the one thing I can say, I’m 36 now, to get to any final at any level whether it’s the national team, club team, World Cup final, whatever, it is so hard, so hard.”
The value of the Open Cup is a message the two veterans have tried to impress on the roster’s youngsters. “One thing that some of the vets like Beas and Philippe have said to the group is that you don’t know how often you’re going to get to play for a trophy,” said Dynamo goalkeeper Joe Willis.
“When you’re young and you’re just starting out you think it’s going to come around a lot – and fast forward ten years and some people have never played for a trophy. So you need to relish it, to enjoy it and you need to take the opportunity and make sure it doesn’t slip past you.”
Willis was an unused substitute in the 2013 U.S. Open Cup Final as his D.C. United side ran out 1-0 winners over Real Salt Lake. It was a bright shaft of light in an otherwise pitch-dark year for D.C., who endured one of the most dire league campaigns in MLS history.
Yet the following season, Ben Olsen’s men went from worst to first as they finished top of the Eastern Conference. Open Cup glory was more than nostalgic fuel to store up for the long decades of retirement; it was proof that United could do better and was a reason to feel better.
“When you’re struggling in the league and you’re losing game after game, life becomes miserable. Everything you do on the field is difficult, things off the field aren’t great,” Willis remembered. “So when you have an opportunity to win a trophy in the midst of that it’s a huge, not just confidence boost, but [boost] to your overall wellbeing and your overall happiness. It was extremely important in 2013 not just from a soccer standpoint but also from a life standpoint.”
Dynamo head coach Wilmer Cabrera, an exceptional player in and for his native Colombia, has plenty of championship memories himself. Lessons both as a young player and novice coach that breed confidence and lay down a marker for the future, like winning the 1987 South American under-20 title.
“That is something that is important, that you know what it takes to win a trophy. And it’s tough. It’s tough. But being in a final is a great opportunity,” Cabrera said. “The players have the possibility to make history.”