An hour into Tuesday night's U.S. Open Cup quarterfinal match with the Chicago Fire, it looked like another nasty case of deja vu for D.C. United. The Fire had marched into enemy territory and seized an early lead, manhandling United with the same direct, physical style that has helped them compile an amazing record of dominance over D.C. in cup competitions -- an 8-0 record over the Black-and-Red in MLS Cup and Open Cup action.
Fire left back Daniel Woolard's 36th-minute goal off a Logan Pause long ball gave the visitors an advantage they looked quite comfortable defending, while United's rust and sluggishness all over the field suggested that they'd just returned from a month off, not a weekend.
"I think we were a little bit spread out from our defense to our midfield to our forwards," said D.C. right back Bryan Namoff. "There was a tendency from the back line to be a little bit up too high from time to time, and I think their defenders were given a lot of time and space and that's why they were able to pick up their heads and look and find space in behind us."
United boss Tom Soehn had one noteworthy ace up his sleeve, however, and he played it to great effect.
"We really lost our ability to keep the ball and we were trying to look for a way," said Soehn afterwards. "I thought Luciano [Emilio] was up there too much alone so we wanted to get him someone up there so he wasn't so easy to mark, and then build up possession a little bit."
Enter Jaime Moreno. A living legend for club and league alike, the Bolivian rarely finds himself in a substitute's role. But he performed the part to perfection on Tuesday, coming on in the 62nd minute and transforming his side's fortunes with a composed display of passing and playmaking to create two goals and pace United to a comeback victory.
Moreno's pass to fellow substitute Francis Doe netted the equalizer in the 77th minute, pushing the Fire back onto their heels and prompting 30 minutes of extra time. Then his 99th-minute corner kick gave Namoff a glorious look at goal that the veteran defender did not waste, flicking a header past Jon Busch to send D.C. into the semifinals of the nation's oldest major tournament.
"I've got to give credit to Jaime Moreno, [who] hits a perfect ball to me -- if I didn't score I think I would've been pretty upset," said the goal-shy Namoff, whose two scores this year have tripled his career total. "I made a run and beat the defender, went to the near post and he put it right on my head. All I had to do was make good contact."
Moreno's name was constantly on the lips of other elated teammates as well.
"I think Jaime's the best player ever, man. He's awesome," said defender Marc Burch, sounding like a starstruck teenager. "When he came in he started holding the ball and playing great balls and setting people up and working hard. When he comes in he changes the game completely."
Just moments after Namoff's tally, the Bolivian asked for a substitution and returned to the bench holding his hamstring. But he insisted that it was a precautionary measure, vowing to be ready for United's SuperLiga opener against Chivas de Guadalajara on Saturday.
"It was getting tighter and at that point winning 2-1, it was perfect for me because after the corner I was going to ask for my substitution anyway," he said. "So we were very lucky."
But there was more drama in store as Chicago looked for some inspiration from their own Latin American playmaker, Cuauhtemoc Blanco -- but the Mexican legend merely succeeded in sparking a near-brawl at the end of the first overtime period with a petulant swing at Clyde Simms. Burch vigorously responded to Blanco and both men were sent off by referee Shane Moody.
"There was a foul and Clyde was holding on to the ball and Blanco came over and just swung as hard as he could and hit him in the stomach," said Burch. "And I'm sick of that -- I saw him throwing elbows at Peralta and I bumped shoulders with him and he threw an elbow at me, and when he was on the ground he kicked me. So I was just sick of him. He gets away with a lot of stuff because he's Blanco and he's from Mexico and it's a big name. But he can't do that stuff to my teammates, so I just stood up for them."
The Fire hunted desperately for a late equalizer but in the end, lacked the touch of class Moreno represented.
"I just tried to give a little bit of life to the whole team," said Moreno. "We reacted at the right moment and it was just one of those games where it could go either way. We fought very hard tonight and we're very pleased with the result."
Charles Boehm is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.