On an evening where the play on the field mirrored the hot and humid conditions in regards to sloppy and lackluster play, it was the brilliance of 17-year old Andy Najar that was the difference maker in United’s 2-1 win over Real Salt Lake tonight at RFK Stadium. Najar, on the field for only two minutes, beat both Collen Warner and Will Johnson on a one-v-one cut back and push through move and slotted the ball underneath the onrushing RSL goalkeeper Kyle Renish to send United to the round of 16 in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup. This match was the last of the MLS preliminary matches that decided the final two MLS teams to join the tournament.
United and RSL both fielded mainly reserves as only Stephen King and Jordan Graye started and played the full 120 minutes. RSL had only starters Nat Borchers, Robbie Russell and Will Johnson on the field as well to start the match. The jumbled lineups produced very little quality soccer in the first 45 minutes and and only Boyzzz Khumalo’s breakaway miss in the 31st minute was the only real threat of the half. Khumalo was sent through by Jaime Moreno and he sent his shot wide left of the goal to the disappointment of the 3,074 fans in attendance.
The second half wasn’t much better but the game finally kicked into gear in the 75th minute when United was awarded a penalty kick. Jordan Graye sped down the left flank and forced a nice kick save from Renish. The ball popped straight up in the air and Santino Quaranta was just about to connect with his bicycle attempt when Collen Warner inexplicably batted the ball away. Luciano Emilio stepped up and finished into the corner and United had the 1-0 lead. That didn’t last very long as RSL was awarded a penalty of their own just six minutes later. United defender Barry Rice was adjudged to have handled a Fabian Espindola cross and Will Johnson converted the spot kick to level the match at 1-1 and send it into extra time.
Both teams looked more lively in extra time, mainly thanks to the 4th substitution rule instituted for this competition. United used theirs to great advantage as Najar was United’s last sub coming on for Khumalo to start the second extra time session. From there it only took two minutes for the Honduran youngster to place his name into United lore with his brilliant move and strike. Even though United had the lead and RSL was demoralized, the job was not done and in fact Barry Rice saved the result when he cleared a ball off the goal line in the 112th minute when Will Johnson beat Troy Perkins to a ball and at a bad angle headed it towards goal. Rice used his quickness and athleticism to throw himself towards the goal and drive the ball away just as it was about to cross goal line.
United now will face this same RSL team in league play on Saturday evening at 7:30 pm at RFK Stadium. United will need three points from this match as they face a daunting four game road trip starting in Seattle next Thursday evening.
- Defender Julius James was red carded on the last play of the match for violent conduct in a collision with Espindola. Didn’t seem to be much about the play, but kudos to Espindola for essentially buying the card with his play acting
- Jaime Moreno got the start up top with Emilio and was mostly ineffective for his 63 minutes on the field. Same for Christian Castillo who continues to struggle for the Black-and-Red
- Carey Talley, Danny Allsopp and Rodney Wallace did not even dress for the match. Juan Manuel Pena, Bill Hamid and Clyde Simms were all unused subs