No one seemed to be happy after last night’s scrappy, yet entertaining 1-1 tie between DC United and UNAM Pumas in the first leg of the CONCACAF Champions Cup semifinal.
Pumas coach Hugo Sanchez refused to appear after the match, while a terse Peter Nowak minced little on the refereeing, which included a dubious second-half penalty awarded to Pumas that allowed them to tie the match.
"From the whole game, I think, after this tricky penalty kick, we’re supposed to be the winner, but we have the second leg and I’m sure we’re going to give everything we have, because we were the better team today," Nowak said. "I think everyone in the stadium, 20-something-thousand, saw this, and they can just laugh about that. I don’t think Pumas, in the second half, created any [chances]… We’re going to do everything we can to go to the final. I hope this kind of stuff is not going to happen in Mexico City, I just hope," Nowak said.
Nowak was also less than happy with what he felt were a lack of calls for 6’3" defender David Stokes and 6′ midfielder Josh Gros.
On the oddly-sodded and uneven field, the boisterous 21,185 in attendance at RFK Stadium saw an open and lively match plentiful in intensity, but lacking in finishing touches.
"I’m wondering if I was expecting more from them, or I was just overly pleased with the pressure we put on them," said defender Mike Petke of Pumas. "By all means, I don’t think we had a great game, but I’m extremely happy with our heart and the way we really just fought. We didn’t let them play around us. We didn’t let them do their little step-overs and stuff. We were all over them. I expect them to put a lot more pressure on us Wednesday, but I expect us to absorb it a lot better."
Gros was succinct in his criticism of Pumas’ play.
"I wasn’t very impressed with their soccer," Gros said. "There were a lot of cheap shots out there."
Still, there were moments of quality.
UNAM Pumas’ Fernando Espinosa got the match off to an electrifying start by forcing United goalkeeper Nick Rimando to parry his 25-yard effort 15 seconds in.
In the 10th minute, Jaime Moreno dribbled in breathtaking fashion down the left side of the field, reaching the end line and crossing to an open Christian Gomez, whose header beat Pumas goalkeeper Sergio Bernal to put United ahead 1-0.
Moreno also had another long run down the left in the 43rd minute that begged for a proper finish, only for a late-arriving Brian Carroll to volley well high from six-yards.
While United certainly created chances on the counterattack, they failed to put them away after their opening salvo. Alecko Eskandarian had a mostly anonymous match, taking just two forgettable shots, while Moreno, despite his dashing runs, had none. Ten of United’s 13 shots came out of their midfield, the best being Ben Olsen’s 61st minute, 20-yard half-volley from a Gros cross that forced Bernal to save well.
United controlled much of the late-stages, aided by the fresh legs of Santino Quaranta and Freddy Adu, who drew a booking from Leandro Augosto for a tackle from behind, and had a one-on-one opportunity in second half stoppage time, but it was deflected left of goal.
Meanwhile, a scrambling, makeshift United defense held Pumas scoreless in the run of play. Though United’s backline lost yet another player–this time Brandon Prideaux to the flu–David Stokes stepped in and played capably, while Bobby Boswell started once more in the center of the defense and has proven thus far to be competent, if not seasoned, in his first two matches. Petke, meanwhile, held the unit together.
He, like Nowak, though, had less than kind words over the officiating, particularly on Pumas’ equalizer, which came in the 52nd minute after Moreno made minimal contact with Pumas’ Israel Castro in the right side of the box. Castro tumbled to the turf and referee Mauricio Navarro awarded Pumas a penalty.
"I don’t know what I was more embarrassed for, the kid, the player who dove, how ugly of a dive it was, or the ref for actually falling for it," Petke said. "Only in America does a foreign team get that call. They say this guy is a Canadian official, but he’s bilingual in Spanish, and he’s speaking with the Mexican players and having a laugh halfway through the game.
"It’s just–when we go to Mexico, there’s no way we’re going to get that call. I’ll probably get a yellow card for doing something like that. And here, in RFK Stadium, and in America, the referee falls for that. It’s a shame; that was our game, 1-0. It should have been more than one-nothing, but for the ref to fall for that and call that a PK is disgraceful. I don’t care if I get fined or whatever. It’s just pathetic."
Ailton da Silva easily converted, beating Rimando with a slow roller to the left corner.
"He saw where I went and went to the opposite corner," Rimando said.
Pumas had a four-shot flurry in a five-minute span of the first half that gave United’s defense some tense moments, but on the night, thanks to some erratic shooting and timely tackles, the defending MLS Cup champions withstood the pressure. United also employed an effective offside trap, catching Pumas nine times–da Silva guilty on five occasions and Joaquin Botero another three. United did not give up a shot after the 68th minute, while Gros provided some much-needed cover, playing more defensively on the flank.
With three matches coming in the next nine days, United will have little time to rest–Petke’s plan is for a couple of beers, while Olsen was looking for suggestions to get through the arduous stretch. Following their second league match at home Saturday against Chicago, they travel to Mexico City for the second leg of the semifinal next Wednesday, and then two days later play in Columbus. Then United will have eight whole days before their next home match at RFK against New England.
"We’ve got a mountain to climb," Petke said. "Between the altitude, between probably the referee, with us playing [last night], this Saturday and then next Wednesday and Friday, we’ve got everything against us, but it’s no excuse."
DC United 1–0—-1
UNAM Pumas 0–1—-1
DCU — Christian Gomez (Jaime Moreno, Steve Guppy) 10
PUM — Ailton da Silva (penalty kick) 52
Pumas — Sergio Bernal, Israel Castro, Joaquin Beltran, Gonzalo Pineda, Dario Veron, Gerardo Galindo, Leandro Augosto, Ailton da Silva (Joaquin del Olmo 85), Fernando Espinosa, Joaquin Botero, Ismael Iniguez. Substitutes Not Used: Bruno Marioni, Fernando Morales, Marco Palacios, Odin Patino, Hugo Sanchez, Efrain Velarde.
TOTAL SHOTS: 12 (Ailton da Silva 3, Fernando Espinosa 3); SHOTS ON GOAL: 6 (6 tied with 1); FOULS: 14 (Leandro Augosto 3, Dario Veron 3); OFFSIDES: 9 (Ailton da Silva 5); CORNER KICKS: 8 (Leandro Augosto 4); SAVES: 4 (Sergio Bernal 4)
DC United — Nick Rimando, David Stokes, Bobby Boswell, Mike Petke, Joshua Gros, Brian Carroll, Christian Gomez (Freddy Adu 79), Ben Olsen, Steve Guppy (Santino Quaranta 70), Alecko Eskandarian (Jamil Walker 85), Jaime Moreno. Substitutes Not Used: Troy Perkins, Eliseo Quintanilla, Clyde Simms, Nick Van Sicklen.
TOTAL SHOTS: 13 (Brian Carroll 3, Ben Olsen 3); SHOTS ON GOAL: 5 (Christian Gomez 2); FOULS: 16 (6 tied with 2); OFFSIDES: 1 (Jaime Moreno 1); CORNER KICKS: 7 (Christian Gomez 3); SAVES: 5 (Nick Rimando 5)
Misconduct Summary :
PUM — Joaquin Beltran (caution; Professional Foul) 21
DCU — David Stokes (caution; Delaying a Restart) 55
PUM — Gerardo Galindo (caution; Reckless Foul) 83
PUM — Leandro Augosto (caution; Tackle from Behind) 90
Referee : Mauricio Navarro
Referee’s Assistants : -Greg Barkey; George Vergara
4th Official : Alex Prus
Weather : Cloudy-and-78-degrees