Panama City, Panama, August 19, 2015 – Miguel Aguilar’s first professional goal in the 85th minute was the difference maker as D.C. United defeated Arabe Unido of Panama 1-0 last night in the opening game of their Scotiabank CONCACAF Champions League campaign. Aguilar, United’s first-round pick in the 2015 MLS SuperDraft this past January, was having a night to forget up to the point in which he gave the Black-and-Red the perfect start to their Group H play.
With Arabe Unido coming into the match with three points from a 3-0 home win last week against Montego Bay (Jamaica), a win for the home side would have made advancement very difficult for United (only the group winners advance to the knockout rounds next February). However the surprising result means that United could possibly clinch advancement from Group H if they win their next two games, both at home against Montego Bay (next Tuesday at 8pm) and then a rematch with Unido on September 15th.
After a not-too-unexpected tough start to the match for United, due mostly to the fact that the squad was completely rotated out except for defender Steve Birnbaum from last Thursday’s 3-1 loss to NYCFC, United finally began to settle into the match when Chris Pontius’ rasping drive from 30 yards out was easily handled by Unido goalkeeper Miguel Lloyd midway through the first half. United defended well and only gave up a handful of half chances to the home side with Andrew Dykstra coming up big on a long-range drive by midfielder Rigoberto Nino just a few minutes after Pontius’ bid.
The best chance of the half for United came in the 35th minute when right back Jalen Robinson sent in a perfect cross from 35 yards out that met the forehead of Jairo Arrieta only to see the shot go narrowly over the crossbar.
After the break United really began to control the tempo of the match, often frustrating Unido to the point of a couple of rough tackles, most of which went unpunished by the referee. With both sides taking turns running at each other with little success, the match seemed to be headed to an inevitable 0-0 draw, which would have been more than acceptable for United. However, a bit of luck on both ends of the pitch after the 80th minute turned ultimately in United’s favor.
In the 80th minute, Arabe Unido should have take the lead. Winger Renaldo Addles did well to get down the left sideline and forge a bit of space by beating Robinson to the end line. His cross through the penalty area should have been tapped home into an empty net but substitute Joel Barcenes completely overthought the play and attempted an audacious back heel instead of a simple left-footed turn into the goal. The result saw the ball go through Barcenes’ legs and out the opposing sideline very much to United’s relief.
Given that reprieve United took full advantage of it. In the 85th minute Arrieta did well to bring down and control a ball under heavy pressure. Turning inside into the midfield, Arrieta spotted Facundo Coria heading towards the goal and slipped the ball to him. Coria then touched the ball to his left to Michael Farfan who had his back to goal just about 25 yards straight out from goal. Without hesitating Farfan back-heeled the ball through the legs of an Unido defender and right into the path of Aguilar. The rookie took a touch to split a pair of defenders and his next touch was a toe-poke that beat the onrushing Lloyd to give United the improbable 1-0 lead.
United easily saw out the remaining minutes of regulation and stoppage time to bring a huge 3 points back to Washington D.C. With the match in the books, United now will turn their attention to their weekend match up against the San Jose Earthquakes at RFK Stadium on Saturday night at 7pm. The Quakes picked up their second consecutive league win with an unexpected 5-0 drubbing of Sporting Kansas City in Kansas City last night.