Hoping to overturn a 5-2 deficit from the first leg of D.C. United’s quarterfinal matchup with Alajuelense proved too difficult as United dropped the aggregate score series 6-4, despite United’s 2-1 victory at soggy RFK Stadium.
Eerily similar to the situation that saw United eliminated from the MLS Cup playoffs last November (United trailed New York Red Bull by 2-0 heading into the second leg at RFK), United did have an outside chance of pulling off a miracle by virtue of picking up two goals in last weeks defeat in Alajula, Costa Rica. United would have needed a 3-0 or 4-1 victory to win the series outright by the away goals rule.
However that hopeful scenario never materialized for the Black-and-Red. United did take the lead when Jairo Arrieta tallied his first goal for United in the 36th minute when he picked up a botched clearance and slotted his shot home past Alajuelense goalkeeper Dexter Lewis. Buoyed by the goal, United pushed forward in the physical affair which saw multiple yellow cards handed out just in the first half alone.
After the break United’s hopes for advancement were effectively dashed when the visitors leveled the match in the 71st minute. A poor clearance from defender Chris Korb, a last-minute substitution for Taylor Kemp who picked up a slight groin strain in warm-ups, allowed a sliver of a chance and midfielder Johan Veneges took advantage and ricochet his shot off of Korb and past a helpless Bill Hamid in goal.
With the life of the series drained out of United they did press on and if not for some rather pedestrian refereeing from Guatemalan head man Walter Lopez, United could have made a real go at pulling off the upset. There were at least three to four good penalty claims for United inside the last 20 minutes of the match with only the last claim being called by Lopez as Chris Rolfe was dragged down right in front of goal when he was in prime position to finish a Conor Doyle cross.
Fabian Espindola stepped up and easily scored the penalty to give United the final margin of victory. United won the battle on the day but lost the War to their Costa Rican opponents.
United now will turn their attention towards their MLS season-opening match just three days away when they host the Montreal Impact on Saturday afternoon at 3pm. Ironically, had United pulled off this miracle comeback, they would be facing the very same Impact in the semi-final round. The Impact produced their own miracle with a 94th minute goal in their 1-1 draw with Pachuca last night to eliminate the Mexican side.
The match on Saturday was in serious jeopardy of not being played at all as the Collective Bargaining Agreement talks between the Owners and the MLS Players Union were in overtime in Washington, D.C. However, a deal in prinicipal was struck just minutes before tonight’s match kicked off and the 2015 MLS season will begin as scheduled on Friday night when the Chicago Fire take on the Los Angeles Galaxy in Carson, California.
United will have to now make do without their talisman leader Espindola as he begins a six-game suspension for his shoving incident of an assistant referee when United were eliminated by Red Bull at RFK last November.