Second-half goals from Chris Pontius and Eddie Johnson (above, photo: Tony Quinn.) were more than enough to propel D.C. United into the knockout round of the 2014-2015 CONCACAF Champions League after their comfortable 2-0 win over Tauro FC of Panama last night at soggy RFK Stadium in Washington, D.C.
Needing only one point to win Group 4, United had to wait through a somber first half before Chris Pontius’ 49th minute header provided the only goal United would need. Eddie Johnson would double the lead in the 53rd minute after some attractive build up play and United were well on their way to advancing to next Spring’s knockout quarterfinal round.
Ben Olsen once again decided to employ a reserve side, just as he did in their opening group match at RFK against Waterhouse FC in August. This time however, in spite of a long feeling out period in the first half, United were in control of the match from the kickoff and twice nearly got the opening goal in the first forty-five.
Pontius’ header from an Alex Caskey cross in the 11th minute nearly opened the scoring for the Black-and-Red. United’s best opportunity though came on a free kick in the 38th minute. With Pontius over the ball from 25-yards out, he rolled the ball to his right where Jared Jeffrey unleashed a rocket that crashed off the crossbar before finally being cleared out by the Tauro FC defense.
After the break United would strike when Samuel Inkoom’s inch-perfect cross from the right sideline met the forehead of Pontius who easily beat Tauro goalkeeper Erick Hughes for the 1-0 lead. This was the second match in a row that an Inkoom cross from the flank resulted in a United goal in this competition when he assisted on Fabian Espindola’s opener in last week’s 2-1 win in Jamaica over Waterhouse FC. The goal was Pontius’ first goal since an MLS league match in September of 2013 last season.
Johnson, who subbed in for Pontius who is still trying to build his fitness after nearly a year off from injury, benefited from some sparkling approach play in the 53rd minute to put the game out of reach for the Panamanian visitors. Alex Caskey received a ball in the middle of the field and immediately pushed the ball out to Inkoom. Inkoom then found David Estrada running deep into the penalty area. With a Tauro FC defender draped all over him, Estrada one-timed a lovely back heel into the path of Johnson who clinically finished off the underside of the crossbar. Johnson has missed the last three league matches and the match in Jamaica last week dealing with concussion symptoms and came into the match wearing concussion headgear.
With the match all but over, United simply passed their way in an around their opponents and probably should have banked a third goal in the 90th minute but Estrada somehow managed to side foot a cross from Johnson wide of the empty net in front of him.
Never the less, United is off to the quarterfinal round which will begin in late February/early March of 2015. United still has one more match to play and could wrap up a top seed with a win in Tauro in mid-October. No doubt with passage secured to the next round, Olsen will once again bring a team of reserves to keep the legs fresh for his normal starters as the MLS season winds to a close in October.
Up next for United is a home match on Saturday afternoon against the Philadelphia Union at 3:50pm EST. This match will be televised nationally on NBCSN beginning at 3:30pm EST.