D.C. United continued their uninspired play of late and now leave their CONCACAF Champions League future in doubt with their 1-1 draw last night against L.A. Firpo at muggy RFK Stadium in front of 8,026 fans. Jaime Moreno’s 42nd minute penatly kick conversion tied the match after United defender Greg Janicki gift-wrapped the visitors opening goal by Mario Benitez in the 26th minute.
By virtue of the 1-1 draw and with the away goals rule in place, United now has to either win straight out next Tuesday in El Salvador, or at the very least has to get a 1-1 draw (which would take the teams into two extra-time sessions and possibly penalties afterwards if still tied). A multiple goal draw will see United advance to the group stages of the Champions League. A Firpo win or 0-0 draw will see them through.
Head coach Tom Soehn decided to start only three of his normal starters mostly because of the fixture congestion that has enveloped the squad in recent weeks. After playing on the West coast on Saturday and seeing another away match in Houston (as well as the return leg on Tuesday next) this Saturday, his hand was forced in an attempt to give some key players some rest. Ben Olsen and Fred didn’t even make the 18-man squad last night and his ultimate hope was to leave Luciano Emilio, Christian Gomez and Chris Pontius on the bench for as long as possible. That all ended in the 26th minute.
Greg Janicki pulled off a double mistake in the back that gifted the visitors a precious away goal and the lead in the match. Janicki, under no pressure whatsoever, tried to thread a 20 yard pass upfield to a teamate only to see it land squarely on the foot of a Firpo midfielder. Seconds later the ball got turned right back over to Janicki at the top of the penalty area. With a United teamate directly in front and one to the left of Janicki, the second-year defender inexplicably tried to cut back on Firpo attacker Mario Benitez and easily got stripped of the ball. The Colombian striker then hit a left-footed strike underneath Milos Kocic for the shock 1-0 lead.
United continued their stupifyingly poor play with a series of bad passes, poor touches and overweighted passes that put teamates in constant trouble. However, a gift from referee Paul Delgadillo in the 41st minute gave United a lifeline. Rodney Wallace was tripped up on the box and the United was awarded a penalty. Replays showed minimal contact, if any at all, on the play. Moreno stepped up and easily converted for the goal and the teams were level at 1-1.
In the second half not much changed for United as the hot and humid weather seemed to affect their play. They seemed sluggish and non-responsive for most of the remainder of the match. However, they did have two golden opportunities to win the match. Rodney Wallace had his 70th minute bid blocked after some nice work by Chris Pontius deep along the right flank gave his fellow rookie the opportunity. Wallace was involved in United’s other glorious chance to win the match in the 90th minute. A lovely exchange along the left sideline between Wallace and Pontius sent Wallace into the box, His cutback pass ended on the foot of Christian Gomez and his effort was well saved by Firpo goalkeeper Juan Jose Gomez and United’s evening came to a disappointing end.
– United is now 0-5-2 all-time in the reformatted Champions League
– Usual starters Marc Burch, Josh Wicks Bryan Namoff were on the 18-man roster but did not see game action
– M Ely Allen was on the bench as well but did not see his debut for the Black and Red
– United is still in negotiations with Burundi defender David Habarugira