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Champions collide in CONCACAF Champions Cup Semifinal – first leg

By Joseph Schoenbauer Thu, April 7, 2005







DC United’s first game of the year at RFK Stadium
against Mexican league champions Pumas had a special
feeling to it as you reached the stadium. It was a
buzz that was noticeably similar to the last time fans
filled the stadium when DC United was playing for a
spot in the MLS Cup final against the New England
Revolution. Last night, after playing only one
regular season game so far this season, DC United
found itself, once again, playing for a spot in a
final. And the significance was noticeable. In
attendance were quite possibly the three biggest and
important names in US Soccer today. Colorado
billionaire Phil Anschutz, the owner of DC United and
investor in MLS, Bruce Arena, the US National Team
head coach, and Don Garber, the Commissioner of MLS
were all in attendance and helped to make up the
21,185 lively fans that filled the lower bowl. And
the fans could not have been disappointed with the
show.



Pumas set the tone from the first whistle as only
seconds into the game, Fernando Espinosa volleyed from
30-yards out, forcing goalkeeper Nick Rimando into a
leaping save that led to a corner. Not to be out
done, Jaime Moreno and company were quick on the
attack as well, forcing two corners drawn by good play
on the wings from Jaime Moreno and Josh Gros. On 9
minutes, Jaime Moreno was involved again when he fed a
through ball to the speeding Ben Olsen through the
center of the Pumas defense. Olsen reached it, but
couldn’t properly connect with it and the ball
squirmed out for a goal kick.



However, it was only a sign of things to come. In
the 10th minute, a Pumas possession was broken up well
inside DC United’s own half. Guppy reached the ball
first and fed Moreno on the left side of the midfield.
Without hesitation, Moreno was off on a brilliant
individual effort, dancing by one sliding defender
into open space. As he sped down the left wing, Gomez
instinctively made a perfect run down the center of
the field and into the box. Moreno, completely
composed and nearing the end line, found him with a
precise left footed cross around an oncoming defender.
Gomez made no mistake, finishing off the counter
attack with an unstoppable header.



La Barra Brava and the Screaming Eagles fans erupted
in song, showing us that while RFK may look different
these days, they still know how to make it bounce.
Unfortunately for La Barra Brava, the Screaming
Eagles, and the rest of the DC United fans in
attendance, they were not in the majority. Of the
21,185 fans in attendance, around 75% of them were
proud Mexicans cheering for the opposition, who are
exactly the fans MLS Commissioner Don Garber wants
filling the MLS stadiums on a regular basis.



Soon after DC United’s goal, Pumas began to dominate
possession completely, resulting in chants of “DC
U-ni-ted” being followed by chants of “Me-hi-co,
Me-hi-co.” Much of Pumas possession was as a result of
center midfielder Leandro Augusto. Calm and skillful
on the ball, his influence on the game grew stronger
as the game clock ticked. His running with the ball
was strong, especially when coupled with his left
footed distribution. His main target throughout the
night was the lively and ever present Brazilian left
winger Ailton, who was keeping right back David
Stokes, filling in for the injured Bryan Namoff and
flu-struck Brandon Prideaux, on his toes at all times.


It was this play that led to Pumas’s chances for the
rest of the half. Twice Pumas could have scored,
after crosses from the left found Fernando Espinosa
and Gerardo Galindo on separate occasions. Both
players connected well, but could not get their shots
on target, as one sailed high and the other flew on
the ground by goal keeper Rimando’s right post.
As the half wore on DC United looked to be bunkered
into what resembled a 4-5-1 formation, with Steve
Guppy pinned in at left back, and Jaime Moreno and
Alecko Eskandarian dropping back on the left and right
side of midfield, leaving Christian Gomez furthest
forward in the middle. The team, as a whole, was
soaking up pressure like a thick sponge. At the heart
of it all was the defensive unit of Mike Petke, Bobby
Boswell and David Stokes, who were proving themselves
to be strong in the tackle. To the chagrin of Coach
Nowak, their passing out of the back, when they did
win the ball, was not finding teammates, and the
pressure was never relieved for long before it came
straight back.



But DC United proved that while pinned back soaking
up pressure, they could still be dangerous on the
counter. After more half chances by Pumas, which
included a dangerous run by Bolivian international
Joaquin Botero that was thwarted by an onrushing
Rimando, DC almost struck again.



In what was almost a mirror image of his run that
produced the games first goal, Jaime Moreno received
the ball on the left of midfield. Once again, he flew
past a helpless defender on a 40-yard run to reach the
end line. This time, it was Brian Carroll making the
wind sprint to the far post. Moreno picked him out
nicely, but Carroll just couldn’t reach it, and sent
the ball far off target and out for a goal kick.



The second half began as the last 35 minutes of the
first half had been. Leandro Augusto influence on the
game continued to be as strong as his blond “Maxi
Lopez” hair was long, and it didn’t look like wavering
anytime soon. 5 minutes had passed in the second half
when Jaime Moreno was forced all the way back to his
own box again. Another cross from Leandro Augusto
from the left went long to the other side of the box.
Right back Israel Castro anticipated well and found
the perfect position. After bringing the ball under
control, he turned abruptly away from goal, right into
Jaime Moreno’s path, and fell to the ground.



Despite the protests from the DC United players and
fans, the referee blew his whistle and pointed to the
spot. After the game, Jaime Moreno chose not to speak
to much about the penalty call against him, as he was
obviously infuriated by it. Nevertheless, play moved
on and Ailton coolly slotted the penalty kick to his
left, much to the enjoyment of the thousands of
Mexican fans in attendance rooting for Pumas.
“Me-hi-co, Me-hi-co” rang out again, but this time it
was louder than before.



DC United had a look of frustration on their faces.
Just as evident, though, was that DC United’s fitness
level began to show as well. It is quite an advantage
to Pumas, currently over halfway through their regular
season, to be playing a DC United team who just played
their very first game of the season on Saturday, and
it showed. Steve Guppy didn’t have the legs to make
it out of his own half and was finding water bottles
on the sidelines 30 minutes into the game. By the
time Pumas had equalized, his crosses were floating
high and off target. But he was not alone. Christian
Gomez couldn’t find the energy to free himself any
space in the middle, while Jaime Moreno had several
traps get caught under his feet and go out of bounds.
Meanwhile, Eskandarian was finding it hard to get any
touches of the ball at all. The one player who
started the game who didn’t look in need of a break
was Josh Gros. Coming off his game-winning goal on
the weekend, Gros had energy to burn and used it all
night up and down the wing. He was a constant outlet
and when Jaime Moreno, Brian Carroll or Ben Olsen did
find space for themselves, they could always find Gros
available up the wing.



DC United’s first opportunity of the half came
surprisingly from David Stokes, who managed for the
first time all night, to find time and space to get
forward with the ball. After muscling his way past
two defenders, he sent in a well placed cross to Ben
Olsen who was making a run near the top of the box.
Unfortunately, it was just out of reach and Olsen
could only snap at it, sending it harmlessly out of
play.



Finally, in the 69th minute, Coach Nowak made his
much needed first substitution, bringing on Santino
Quaranta for Steve Guppy. And the change almost paid
off instantly. Gros, who switched over to the left,
sent in an in swinger that was cleared only as far as
Carroll. Carroll controlled the clearance nicely and
shot strongly, but right at Pumas goalkeeper Sergio
Bernal.



Much to the hopes of the DC United faithful, it
looked as though the substitution had brought life
back into the team, and at the same time, sucked a
little out of Pumas. For it was their turn to look a
little tired. Bolivian forward Joaquin Botero, who
arguably had done little, if anything, productive all
night, was being neutralized by DC’s defense and right
winger Fernando Espinosa had disappeared off the
radar.



In the 75th minute, Moreno drew another one of DC’s 7
corners on the night. Stokes, taking advantage of
Pumas’s lack of height, rose strongly to Gomez’s ball
and forced the goalie to punch clear while seemingly
pushing Stokes out of the way in the process. The
ball was immediately put back in the box, and Stokes
rose high above the rest again, heading the ball
towards goal, only for a sliding defender to clear it
off the line and away from danger.


Peter Nowak was then forced to make his second change
on the night, bringing on Freddy Adu for goal scorer
Christian Gomez in the 79th minute, much to the
enjoyment of the crowd. And the enjoyment didn’t stop
there. 15-year old Freddy Adu sensed the tired legs
in the Pumas defense and successfully ran straight at
them every time he got the ball. Freddy Adu showed
what he is fully capable of in the 90th minute.
Picking up the ball on the left, near the half way
line, Freddy Adu dribbled straight toward Leandro
Augusto, the star of the game, and with ease, went
right by him. Augusto played catch-up for the next 20
yards before being forced to haul Adu down from
behind, receiving a yellow card in the process. Adu’s
resulting free kick, another strong curling ball to
the far post, met Petke’s head but Pumas’s defense did
enough to force it off target in the end



It what seemed to be an endless amount of injury
time, Pumas and DC created chances to steal the win
from each other, but both defenses stood firm. The
best opportunity fell to Adu once again. Played
through by a deft Jaime Moreno pass, Freddy Adu had
just one defender to beat. After several shimmies,
Adu pushed the ball to the left and shot, but the
defender got just enough on it to send it out for a
corner kick.



The referee blew the whistle shortly after, bringing
the game, filled to the brim with passion from the
players and the fans, to an end.



At 1-1, Pumas perhaps went a long way to securing
their passage to the final. The 2nd leg is to be
played next Wednesday at Pumas’ home stadium in Mexico
City, which seats 72,000 and is at a high altitude,
making it even harder to breath for the DC United
players who are just finding their legs at such an
early stage of their season. Pumas also may have the
ability to field three more of their top players in
Mexican international Jaime Lozano, Argentinean
forward Bruno Marioni, and their leading scorer, Diego
Alonso. Nevertheless, DC United proved they could
score, that they can be dangerous on the counter, that
they can be dangerous on set pieces, and that they can
get a result over 90 minutes.



Head Coach Peter Nowak reflected on his teams’
performance after the game. He was impressed with
Bobby Boswell’s game, sighting he “is a very young
player that is going to get experience playing in
international games such as these.” He also commented
on Freddy Adu, claiming that he “did exactly what we
needed for the last 15 minutes [of the game].”
However, his lasting quote was about the team as a
whole. When asked about the level at which DC United
are playing and the chances the team has for
progressing to the final of the tournament, Nowak
commented honestly, “There is still a lot of work to
do.”



Mike Petke was in agreement with his coach, claiming
“I expect a lot more pressure next Wednesday.” The
odds may be stacked against them, but DC United knows
what it takes to win this tournament, and there is
still everything to play for.


Notes: DC United’s next game is their season
home-opener this Saturday night at RFK Stadium against
the Chicago Fire.



The CONCACAF Champions Cup is played over two legs,
and the winner is decided on goal difference.
Therefore, away goals do not count for more than home
goals, meaning next Wednesday’s game will not be
decided after 90 minutes in case of a tie.

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