While the list of advantages not in D.C. United’s favor were many heading into the first leg of their CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal knockout round against LD Alajuelense, the bottom line is that they were completely outclassed in all facets of the game in their 5-2 loss tonight in Alajuela, Costa Rica.
Alajuelense put United under siege inside the first twenty minutes and were 2-0 up before Fabian Espindola gave the Black-and-Red brief hope with a 27th minute goal. Just two minutes later though, an Andrew Dykstra mistake, one of many in his start in place of the injured Bill Hamid, pushed the lead back to two goals and the home side never looked back.
Alajeulense extended the lead to 4-1 early in the second half to nearly put the tie out of reach, but Steve Birnbaum’s first goal for United in the 88th minute gave United a real lifeline heading into next Wednesday’s return leg at RFK Stadium as United had scored an all-important second road goal. However that feeling lasted for about 30 seconds, just long enough for Alajuelense to come right back down the field and capitalize on a poor Birnbaum clearance to extent the lead to the final scoreline of 5-2.
Now United’s prospects of moving on into the semi-final round of the CCL have taken a serious blow. United will now have to win by a 3-0 scoreline to advance past Alajuelense. Given that United looked so porous defensively this evening, one can’t really expect that result to come to fruition.
Going into the match United has a litany of factors working against them. United was playing their first competitive match since losing in the MLS Playoffs last November while Alajuelense was 10 games deep into their season. United were playing on the road in Costa Rica against one of the stingiest defensive teams in recent years in this competition (kudos to them for actually scoring twice, a feat not pulled off by any opponent in a long time in the CCL in Alajuela) and United were missing at least four starters including late scratches Bill Hamid and Markus Halsti.
The absence of Hamid loomed largest as Dykstra folded under the pressure in spite of a strong opening 14 minutes. Within the next 14 minutes Dykstra had committed an unnecessary penalty and subsequent PK goal and spilled a harmless cross right into the path of an Alajuelense player to easily poke into the empty net and essentially kill off the match and most likely the two-legged series.
Would Hamid have made a difference? Most likely yes but we’ll never know now if sitting Hamid out in this first leg cost United the chance to advance to the semi-finals. While that particular point can be argued ad nauseam on various message boards or on podcasts, the cold hard truth tonight was that D.C. United was completely and embarrassingly outclassed on every level.
United will get their opportunity to push their own home-field advantage next Wednesday in the cold March temperatures in D.C. Will that be enough to turn it around? Not likely unfortunately.
Stranger things have happened however….