United open Champions' Cup with win
A Josh Gros goal midway through the second half gave D.C. United a nervy 2-1 victory against Jamaican side Harbour View FC in the first leg of their CONCACAF Champions Cup quarterfinal series on Wednesday night at the Maryland SoccerPlex.
United, forced out of their usual RFK Stadium home with the impending season opener of baseball's Washington Nationals, took an early lead through Alecko Eskandarian, but saw their Caribbean visitors pull level midway through the opening 45 minutes.
Gros then gave the defending MLS champion the lead in the 64th minute, United then grimly holding on over the final minutes to carry a slim lead into next week's second leg in Kingston.
The match kicked off under cold, blustery conditions with temperatures hovering under the freezing mark as a number of United traditions were begun and ended before kickoff. Christian Gomez became the first D.C. player to don the talismanic No. 10 jersey since Marco Etcheverry's retirement and the United defense entered the post-Ryan Nelsen era.
It didn't take long for United to earn the match's first chance as Gomez carried to the top of Harbour View's box and cleverly cut the ball into the path of a Gros diagonal run. Gros cut past goalkeeper Leighton Murray and slotted a shot towards the empty net, but the Jamaican defense hurriedly cleared its line.
But Harbour View did not heed the warning and United struck for the opener in the fifth minute in classic, cold-blooded fashion. Jaime Moreno chased down a long ball by the left corner flag and alertly backheeled to Freddy Adu as he raced down the touchline in support.
Adu hit a low but wickedly inswinging cross with his first touch that eluded Harbour View defender Damion Stewart and fell invitingly for Eskandarian at the penalty spot. The 2004 MLS Cup MVP made no mistake with a wicked side volley that rocketed past Murray and into the right side of the net.
United continued to dominate possession through the first half, with plenty of probing around the Harbour View defense but a shortage of corresponding goalmouth action.
But a goalkeeping gaffe suddenly threw the one-sided match into a 1-1 draw in the 22nd minute. David Stokes looked to have striker Luton Shelton well covered when a lazy cross looped into the United box, but 'keeper Nick Rimando raced out and claim the high ball. He arrived too late, flapped at the cross and crashed into a confused Stokes, leaving Shelton with the ball, plenty of space and an empty goal.
The tall Jamaican could barely believe his luck as he took a touch before stroking home the equalizer.
The goal switched the teams' moods dramatically, as D.C.'s confidence flagged and their normally accurate passing went haywire in places. Conversely the visitors, who had looked largely uncomfortable in the unfamiliar setting, found new energy and attitude. Their attempts to discomfit United with pressure turned up a notch, especially along the back line, and on several occasions Mike Petke and Stokes had to play it safe and whack the ball clear.
Clearly, Shelton's fortunate goal had revealed Rimando's weak spot to the visiting side and Harbour View looked to capitalize with more wing play and high crosses, and on several occasions Craig Stewart got in behind the D.C. defense's right flank.
But United was still far more adventuresome in attack, displaying their fluid attacking combinations and sharp understanding, as evinced by Moreno's cheeky nutmeg pass through a defender's legs and into Olsen's endline run. Olsen cut back to a wide-open Gomez at the corner of the six-yard box, but his snap shot to the near post was parried wide by a quick-reacting Murray.
After the break, Harbour View made their intentions clear from the kickoff as they tried to bunker in hopes of preserving a draw which would have been a dream result for the Jamaican side. They looked to break out on the counter on occasion, but seemed most focused on breaking up the Black-and-Red's attack and aggravating them with physical play.
United came close in the 62nd minute when a deft flick-on from Ben Olsen played Eskandarian clear on goal. But with time for another touch and only Murray to beat, the normally deadly striker blasted a quick shot straight at the Harbour View netminder. Eskandarian even got another chance when the rebound popped straight up, but the wildly spinning ball was a dicey prospect and he headed over the bar.
Just when it seemed as though United's need for a home leg win might go unfulfilled, the Black-and-Red finally got the breakthrough they needed when Moreno held up possession deep in the right side of the Harbour View defense and combined with Gomez, whose chipped cross from just wide of the near post found a late-running Gros.
Though the service looked too close to the crossbar to be converted, Gros leaped high and looped a header over a despondent Murray, a vital tally that put United up 2-1.
Still, there were some very tense moments ahead for United. Stokes struggled with the ball at times, and he very nearly became the evening's goat with a ghastly square ball intended for Namoff that rolled straight to Shelton with only Rimando to beat. But the 'keeper redeemed his first half error with a lightning-quick dive to smother the ball, though it squirted loose and almost gave Shelton another freebie.
Then in the 78th minute, a hopeful long through ball from Harbour View's Damion Stewart was run down by the speedy Shelton, who turned to goal with only Namoff to beat. Namoff foiled Shelton's crafty cutback but then gifted possession right back to him, allowing the striker to fire an angled drive that brought out a reflex save from Rimando and a sigh of relief from the crowd.
Second-half sub Santino Quaranta nearly gave United a third goal late in the match, but Murray smothered the ball and rescued his team again, leaving the MLS side to carry a tenuous lead to Jamaica next week.
Charles Boehm is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.
Harbour View FC vs. D.C. United
March 09, 2005 -- Maryland SoccerPlex - Boyds, MD.
DC -- Alecko Eskandarian (Freddy Adu, Jaime Moreno) 5
HBV -- Luton Shelton (unassisted) 23
DC -- Joshua Gros (Christian Gomez, Jaime Moreno) 64
Harbour View FC -- Leighton Murray, Christopher Harvey, Robert Scarlett, Damion Stewart, Jermaine Taylor, Craig Stewart (Sean Fraser 69), Jermaine Hue, Donald Stewart, Lovel Palmer, Nicholas McCreath (Jomo Gordon 80), Luton Shelton.
Substitutes Not Used: Marcelino Blackburn, Thomas Grant, William Richards, Ryan Thompson, Clifton Waugh.
TOTAL SHOTS: 6 (Luton Shelton 3); SHOTS ON GOAL: 3 (Luton Shelton 3); FOULS: 13 (Luton Shelton 3); OFFSIDES: 1 (Luton Shelton 1); CORNER KICKS: 4 (Jermaine Hue 2, Robert Scarlett 2); SAVES: 4 (Leighton Murray 4)
D.C. United -- Nick Rimando, Bryan Namoff, Mike Petke, David Stokes, Freddy Adu (Brandon Prideaux 80), Brian Carroll, Christian Gomez (Clyde Simms 84), Ben Olsen, Joshua Gros, Alecko Eskandarian, Jaime Moreno (Santino Quaranta 88).
Substitutes Not Used: Troy Perkins, Nick Van Sicklen, Jamil Walker, Robert Boswell.
TOTAL SHOTS: 10 (Alecko Eskandarian 4); SHOTS ON GOAL: 6 (Alecko Eskandarian 2, Christian Gomez 2); FOULS: 19 (Ben Olsen 4); OFFSIDES: 1 (Ben Olsen 1); CORNER KICKS: 7 (3 tied with 2); SAVES: 2 (Nick Rimando 2)
HBV -- Christopher Harvey (caution; Tackle from Behind) 27
HBV -- Donald Stewart (caution; Reckless Foul) 55
DC -- Christian Gomez (caution; Dissent) 68
DC -- Joshua Gros (caution; Reckless Foul) 78
Referee: Walter Quesada
Referee's Assistants: -Craig Lowry; Robert Fereday
4th Official: Alex Prus
Time of Game: 1:53
All Statistics contained in this boxscore are unofficial.