DC United's Miguel Aguilar in CCL action vs. Arabe Unido

D.C. United kicked off the group stage of their 2015-2016 CONCACAF Champions League campaign on Thursday evening, looking for a strong start against Panamanian side Árabe Unido.

They got just that, relying on a late goal from midfielder Miguel Aguilar and some excellent goalkeeping by Andrew Dykstra to extract a 1-0 result at Estadio Maracaná in Panama City.

Aguilar’s 84th-minute goal came against the run of play and was a fine piece of teamwork. Argentine midfielder Facundo Coria collected the ball 25 yards from goal and fed second-half substitute Michael Farfan. He played a nifty backheel through for Aguilar, who fired a right-footed effort past the outstretched arms of Árabe ‘keeper Miguel Lloyd to earn the victory.

D.C. sent a mix of reserves and starters south of the border, a group led by assistant coach Chad Ashton; head coach Ben Olsen sat this one out while serving a suspension earned in last year’s edition of CCL play.

They looked a bit out-of-sorts early on. Bolstered by a small but raucous home crowd, Árabe were the more dangerous side in the game’s opening quarter hour. A long-range blast by defender Rigoberto Niño forced Dykstra into action early on. The ‘keeper called on his reflexes again in the 12th minute, expertly parrying away a close-range effort by forward Armando Polo.

Polo tested Dykstra again in the 27th from a nearly identical spot, with a nearly identical result.

United found a bit of a groove later in the half, but a pair of Chris Pontius attempts and another from Costa Rican forward Jairo Arrieta just before halftime did not put Lloyd under any real duress. 

D.C. nearly got the game’s opener in the 56th minute. Farfan slipped a ball through for Arrieta, who took a touch and tried to chip an onrushing Lloyd. The goalkeeper just barely managed to get a fingertip to the effort, though, steering it away from goal.

Dykstra was again pressed into action later in the game, first in the 63rd minute when he charged 40 yards off his line to clear a breakaway from danger. Five minutes later, he smothered a José González effort from 18 yards out. A close-range shot by second-half sub Abdiel Arroyo trickled wide in the 70th, while midfielder Édgar Bárcenas missed a sitter from inside the six-yard box just a couple of minutes later.

With the match seemingly destined for a draw – a perfectly fine result for United, but far from a satisfactory result for Árabe Unido – Aguilar struck.

United have little time to recover from the match, as the Eastern Conference leaders host the San Jose Earthquakes on Saturday evening at RFK Stadium. The following Tuesday, D.C. will get back to CCL action when they welcome Jamaican side Montego Bay United in their second group-stage match.