Guillermo Barros Schelotto’s 98th minute penalty was the game-winning goal in Columbus’ 2-1 win over D.C. United in the semi-finals of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup tonight at RFK Stadium. United’s season long nemesis of not finishing their opportunities reared it’s ugly head once again when two golden chances were missed late in the match. Andy Najar and Dejan Jakovic were the latest in a long line of United players unable to find the net when the team needed it most.
United took the lead in this physical contest in the 13th minute thanks to some comical defending from the visiting Crew. Goalkeeper Andy Gruenebaum flubbed a clearance right into the path of United attacker Pablo Hernandez. The Argentine pushed the ball past defender Andy Iro and the Englishman make a clumsy tackle giving referee Chris Penso no choice but to point to the penalty spot. Hernandez calmly stepped up and shot to Gruenenbaum’s left for a 1-0 United lead. United leads have been few and far between this season and the teams made it to halftime in the physical contest with United still holding the 1-0 lead.
After the intermission is when things really got interesting however. Andy Najar, United’s 17-year old star, hit the post inside of two minutes after the restart but the real fireworks came in the 59th minute. Pablo Hernandez was hacked down by Columbus hard man Danny O’ Rourke and Hernandez kicked out at O’Rourke as referee Chris Penso inexplicably waved play on. While on the ground, O’Rourke leaned over the prone Hernandez and was pointing in his face in an apparent attempt to tell him that his diving wouldn’t be tolerated. Play stopped seconds later as both teams gathered around the players involved in the altercation. Referee Penso consulted with the near side assistant referee and Hernandez was show a straight red card to O’Rourke’s yellow.
Despite the numerical disadvantage, United still managed to keep the Crew from registering any real dangerous opportunities. Columbus finally got it’s first shot at United goalkeeper Bill Hamid in the 67th minute. Even though United was down a man, they arguably had the better opportunity to lengthen the lead. Najar’s individually brilliant run in the 79th minute was thwarted by Gruenenbaum to keep the score at 1-0.
United was about two minutes away from a well deserved trip to their consecutive final of the U.S. Open Cup when Andy Iro’s goalmouth shot was redirected into the goal by United defender Marc Burch in the 89th minute. However, just seconds after the restart, Najar somehow managed to get behind the Columbus back line and only had the hard charging Gruenenbaum to beat when his delicate chip went wide of the goal. “No, there’s nothing I can say to them right now”, said a clearly frustrated head coach Ben Olsen after the match when asked if there was anything he could say to his team to lift their spirits. “We just can’t seem to reward ourselves. I’m proud of the guys, they deserve better, but they just can’t seem to reward themselves for their hard work.”
Extra-time beckoned and two fifteen minute halves would be played. Eight minutes into the overtime Crew striker Steven Lenhart out hustled United substitute Carey Talley to a ball in the corner. Lenhart then nutmegged Talley and ran along the endline unopposed to the doorstep of the goal when Talley took him down from behind. Schelotto stepped up and easily converted the spot kick to give the visitors the 2-1 lead. Although United had every reason to pack up and simply play out the remainder of overtime, they honestly should have drawn the match level in the 105th minute. Jordan Graye’s slide-tackle popped a ball loose and Santino Quaranta led United on a rare jailbreak towards Columbus’ goal. Quaranta slipped the ball to his right to Najar who sent an inch-perfect pass across the face of goal to a wide open Dejan Jakovic who somehow managed to send the ball over the vacated goal. With that miss, a season of frustration was summed up in one micro-moment. The Achilles Heel of the 2010 version of D.C. United is their complete inability to finish in front of goal. It somehow seemed fitting that United would bow out of the Open Cup with such a horrific miss.
With the Open Cup out of the way now, United is focused on their eight remaining MLS matches starting on Saturday night against this same Columbus Crew team. The match will start at 7:30 pm and will be shown live on Fox Soccer Channel.