Sudamericana heartbreak for D.C. United

D.C. United were cruelly dumped out of the Copa Sudamericana on Thursday night with a 3-2 loss to Universidad Catolica in the second leg of their round-of-16 match in Santiago, Chile. The Black-and-Red were up 2-0, but surrendered three goals to lose 4-3 on aggregate.

Jorge Quinteros scored two goals for the hosts, including the game-winner four minutes from the final whistle, to send United back to the U.S. wondering what might have been.

United jumped to a lead after only 13 minutes thanks to a combination between Jaime Moreno and Christian Gomez. Moreno made a weaving run from right to left and laid the ball off to Gomez at the top of the box. The Argentinean made no mistake with the finish, firing the ball into the lower left corner to put United on top 1-0 in the match and 2-1 on aggregate.

Ten minutes later the Black-and-Red missed a golden opportunity to extend their lead. Dema Kovalenko sent Jamil Walker through on goal and the speedy striker was dragged down a Catolica defender. The referee was ready to wave play on, but his assistant flagged and the penalty kick was awarded. Moreno stepped up to take the shot, but José María Buljubasich guessed right and made the save for Catolica.

Seconds later D.C. did get its much-deserved second goal. Again Gomez was the architect, this time whipping in a swerving ball from the right flank that clanged off the far post, struck Buljubasich in the back and bounced over the line.

The hosts cut into United's lead five minutes before the intermission. Eduardo Rubio beat the D.C. defense on the left sideline and carried the ball to the end line. Once there he cut the ball back to strike partner Quinteros, the low cross knifing between Brandon Prideaux and goalkeeper Nick Rimando. Quinteros easily finished from close range and the half soon came to a close.

Gomez nearly put the game out of reach 10 minutes after the restart. Santino Quaranta slipped a pass between Catolica defenders and Gomez moved in on goal with only Buljubasich to beat. Gomez went for finesse and attempted to lift the ball over the onrushing 'keeper, but Buljubasich was up to the challenge and kept it a one-goal game.

United coach Peter Nowak opted for a conservative approach with 25 minutes to go, withdrawing Gomez and inserting the more defensive-minded John Wilson. He immediately got involved in the attack, bursting down the left wing, but United couldn't take advantage of the chance.

Rimando made his best save of the night at the 70-minute mark. Catolica attacking midfielder Dario Conca uncorked a powerful shot that skipped off the slick surface and was heading to the corner of the net, but Rimando sprawled to his left at full extension to touch the ball onto the post and out of play.

The UCLA product was not as fortunate in the 78th minute when he was beaten on a free kick. Rubio brought the aggregate score to 3-3 when his curling left-footed free kick nuzzled into the far post.

United were then dealt the death-blow four minutes before full time. Second-half substitute Josh Gros couldn't climb high enough to win a head ball in his own box and the ball was dumped back in front of Rimando's net. The MLS veteran came charging out for the ball, but Quinteros beat him to it and nodded the ball home to give Catolica the lead and the win.

The defending MLS Cup champs will return to league action on Oct. 1 when they visit the MetroStars in a crucial Eastern Conference clash. The Black-and-Red currently sit in second place in the Eastern Conference with 47 points, though they have yet to clinch a spot in the 2005 MLS Cup Playoffs.

Jonathan Nierman is a contributor to This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.