DC United’s much maligned designated player Luciano Emilio came through with two huge goals in the second half sandwiched around a Jaime Moreno strike to give DC a vital 3-0 win. United is now likely to advance to the knockout phase with a win over last place Jabloteh in RFK next week.
Lucky Luciano scored the game winner barely two minutes after halftime as snuck away from Marathon central defender Mario Beata to latch onto the end of a brilliant cross from Avery John. DC’s three quarter million man nodded that lovely cross back across goal to nestle into side netting for the 1-0 lead. The score easily made up for numerous missed opportunities the snakebit Emilio just could not convert in a first half dominated by DC.
However needing two goals to erase the goal deficit to Marathon from their earlier loss in Honduras in matchday one, DC continued to press forward and was rewarded in the 55th minute by a typically sublime strike from United legend Jaime Moreno. Emilio collected a lovely pass down the right side and centered behind Quaranta in the box, but he was able to recover and poke the ball back to Moreno at the spot. Cool as cucumber, Moreno collected and switched feet to freeze the keeper and poke into the open net like he was slipping a shank into Marathon’s tournament hopes.
Emilio completed the scoring in the 71st latching onto a lovely thru ball by Ben Olsen as he split Marathon’s central defense perfectly, beating their offside trap easily as a hot knife and slotting expertly past the helpless Marathon keeper. With the third goal, DC now had some breathing room and would not have to worry about a goal from Marathon should one arise, since the head to head goal differential was erased.
In the first half, while the game was still in doubt, Marathon’s best chance of the match was a soft clearance by Simms that fell right to Carlos Wil Mejia for a wicked blast 14 minutes into the game, but Wicks dove to push it aside spectacularly.
But United had clearly the better of the play throughout the game though and was frankly unlucky not to gone out to an insurmountable lead in the first half if not for some unfortunate shots. Pontius snapped down a lovely cross right into Emilio’s path as he had ghosted in behind Lucas, but his shot was fumbled wide. Emilio was to barely miss another chance as an Olsen corner kick found him at the near post but his volley sailed just over the bar.
Marathon was simply not able to mount any serious challenges as their rough patch was to continue unmercifully. Not only had they lost in Mexico last week 7-0, and at home 2-0 over the weekend, but due to the political turmoil in their country, they had to endure a brutal travel schedule of long bus rides and planes transfers to even get here, arriving in DC a bare 18 hours before kickoff. Little wonder they played a bit lethargic and far below their usual dynamic abilities.
DC, of course has little sympathy for such problems as they have had three years of tough schedules and wicked travel regionally, so as Soehn mentioned pointedly after the game, “welcome to the club” in dealing with such brutal circumstances if you expect to play at the highest levels in CONCACAF. For once, circumstances played out in DC’s way and they took full advantage.
Still, DC took a bit of a blow right at the end as they endured some wicked fouls by Marathon defenders and got caught in retaliation. After the Mario brothers Beata and Berrios both cruelly hacked United players within two minutes, Moreno had had enough. As he collected a ball in the offensive third, Berrios fouled him repeatedly from behind and United’s captain lined him up for a hip check and swung a bit of an elbow back at the diminutive Honduran. The referee was right on top of it and issued a yellow, but apparently the fourth official saw Moreno and Marathon attacker Mitchell Brown arguing a bit too vociferously, so both were shown a yellow which meant Moreno was ejected as it was his second.
In an amusing aside, Moreno was heckled unmercifully by the Marathon bench and some Honduran fans as he made his way into the tunnel, but he defiantly gestured three fingers repeatedly as he exited to point out the most important result of the evening.
Moreno will now be out for the Jabloteh match as well as both Avery John and Dejan Jakovic who each picked up second yellows for the tournament and will be suspended as well. United will be able to welcome back Christian Gomez from suspension and with the increasing health of the roster, none of the players suspended should cause DC any real distress at home against the worst team in the group (soccer gods willing of course).
DC United still has a huge advantage for advancement as their 3-0 win gives them the tiebreaker over Marathon should the two teams finish tied on points at the end of the group stage. Considering the Mexican giants, Toluca lead the group with 12 points and almost certainly will advance, but DC has now pulled level with Marathon at 6 points apiece with DC holding the tiebreaker edge with this win.
United finishes up the group stage hosting last place Jabloteh of Trinidad and traveling to Mexico to face group leaders Toluca, while Marathon has the far tougher schedule of hosting Toluca and then finishing up in Trinidad against Jabloteh. A win for DC in either match (with the Jabloteh match at home being the most likely, obviously) combined with a loss for Marathon in either match sends DC into the knockout phase of the tournament scheduled for next spring.
In even better news, United now has some serious momentum to carry into it’s final matches of the MLS season at home in the hopes of qualifying for a layoff spot, as well as the welcome back for a lot of injured players to see them through. Santino Quranta played the full 90 and Central defender Dejan Jakovic played the final 15 minutes of this match after having hernia surgery three weeks ago. Marc Burch and Fred are reportedly very close to return as well.
DC returns to MLS action Sunday hosting the worst team in the Western conference San Jose at 3 PM in RFK and likely will have their CONCACAF fate settled as they host San Juan Jabloteh in RFK next Wednesday.