D.C. United survived the altitude and left Estadio Nemesio Diez with a draw, becoming just the second Major League Soccer squad to leave Mexico with a point after battling Toluca to a 1-1 draw Tuesday night in the CONCACAF Champions League.
But it wasn't the result D.C. United was looking for.
"We definitely wanted to come and get the result here so we didn't have to count on somebody else," D.C. United coach Tom Soehn said. "This is a tough environment to come in and play in. I thought our guys handled it well. We had some chances to put the second goal away and we missed those opportunities and they came back to haunt us."
While Toluca was able to clinch its berth in the quarterfinals with the draw, joining fellow Mexican squads Pachuca, Cruz Azul and Pumas, D.C. United will now have to wait 48 agonizing hours to learn their fate.
D.C. moves one point in front of Marathon, which takes on winless San Juan Jabloteh Thursday night in Trinidad. Anything short of a Marathon win and D.C. joins the Columbus Crew in the knockout stage.
"We played our hearts out," Chris Pontius said. "It's a difficult stadium to play in and it's unfortunate that we did not come out with the result that we wanted. When you play that hard for 90 minutes you want to win and I thought we deserved to win today."
While the final result wasn't what they wanted, D.C. United got off to the best possible start thanks to Pontius, who struck for a golazo just six minutes in. Luciano Emilio latched onto a long punt from Steve Cronin and, after one bounce, headed back to Pontius. The rookie took the ball off his chest and unleashed a blast inside the near post for his second Champions League goal.
"I think it kind of settled us all down," Pontius said of his goal. "I thought it was good for us as a team. Toluca is the best team in Mexico right now. They are a very good team and playing at altitude, they are a very tough team to play against. It was very important for us to get on the scoreboard first."
For a second consecutive game, Steve Cronin was brilliant in goal for D.C. United. He swatted away Nestor Calderon's lob three minutes into the game and dived to his right to nab Issac Brizuela's low, hard shot from distance in the 37th minute.
The only ball to get past Cronin was from the penalty spot after Lawson Vaughn was adjudged to have taken down Israel Lopez in the box. The 35-year-old midfielder stepped to the spot and beat Cronin, who dived to his right.
"The guy got around me," Vaughn said. "I knew that he was going to try to go around the corner and I just put my shoulder down. I don't know if our legs got tangled, but I did not try to kick him or anything and he just fell. I guess he sold it."
Dylan Butler is a contributor to MLSnet.com.