DC United’s reserves were no match for Mexican powerhouse Toluca, yet once again nearly pulled off an improbable tie. But sadly, another pitiful performance over the last 10 minutes sealed their fate in a match that played out eerily similar to their loss in Honduras to Marathon. The loss leaves United winless and in last place in group B, six points behind Toluca and Marathon, and with almost no chance to advance.
It’s hard enough for DC to play the best teams in the entire region during a particularly tough part of their schedule, but to shoot themselves in the foot in the opening minutes of such matches is suicide. Yet, United did it again gifting Toluca a goal in the fifth minute of the game to send the Mexicans well on their way to being the first team to beat United in RFK this season.
Toluca had sent an innocent ball into the area, a play that is routinely defended without mishap dozens of times a game by competent teams, yet United keeper Josh Wicks turned it into the easiest goal Toluca’s Vladimir “green boots” Marin will ever score in his lifetime. Wicks did charge out like a lion, but eased into the ball like an old man slipping into a bathtub. He also apparently forgot he’s the only player able to use his hands too as he pretty much chested the ball off the dumbfounded David Habarugira right into Marin’s path for the easy finish into the open net.
Once again behind the eight ball, United did manage to hang on gamely until the they struck like lightning for an improbable goal right after halftime on a lovely finish by rookie Chris Pontius totally against the run of play to tie the match. Halftime sub Santino Quaranta collected a poor clear deep down the left side of the box and lofted a perfect cross between Toluca’s two central defenders. With lovely instincts, Pontius dove in front of Mexican National team defender, Edgar Duenas to nod the ball into the back of the net to give United a lifeline.
Incredibly, United held on like grim death just long enough for fans to begin thinking that maybe the soccer gods will smile upon the Black and Red for once. Maybe DC can pull off a point in a match they should lose going away to make up for being robbed of points in matches they clearly should have won. But those hopes were dashed cruelly in the end as DC fumbled away any chance of restoring their international reputation.
In the 79th minute, on a play that will leave United defender Marc Burch twitching in his sleep with nightmares, Toluca’s Hector Mancilla collected a ball in the United area and showed exactly why he’s a Chilean International and lead the entire Mexican league in scoring last year. He turned exquisitely and cut back and forth on Burch so many times he literally opened up yards of space to take his time to drill a shot past the helpless Wicks for the winner.
Unfortunately, just as Soehn looked like a genius for bringing on Quaranta at the half, he looked like the goat as he burned his third sub on Namoff while the game was still tied. Sadly, United’s veteran defender was caught ball watching as Nestor Calderon was sent so far behind United’s defense someone from La Norte had a better chance of catching him than Namoff did. With time enough to measure his cross perfectly, Calderon sent a screamer across the face of goal where DC’s Julius James once again deflected it right into the path an opponent facing an open goal. This time John wasn’t close enough to foul him for the PK like Janicki did in Honduras, so Mancilla touched it in easily to seal United’s fate.
United resumes group play almost three weeks from now in Trinidad against San Juan Jabloteh. Needless to say another 3-1 loss would end any hope of United advancing. As it is United has almost no chance anyway. DC faces Jabloteh twice and would need big wins in both as well as beat Marathon at home. Even then, it would likely take Jabloteh stealing some points away from Toluca or Marathon, since a result in Mexico seems a forgone conclusion.
On the bright side, United has plenty of players rested up for their upcoming loss in Chicago. United returns home next Wednesday for the Open Cup final against Seattle. The “We Win Trophies” campaign could go the way of the infamous “Metro Playoff Fever” slogan if United lays an egg in that one. Still, there’s hope right?