WASHINGTON - It was déjà vu all over again for D.C. United's defense on Tuesday night, as another lapse in concentration conceded another injury-time goal just before halftime, putting the Black-and-Red at an early disadvantage in their Copa Sudamericana clash with Chile's CD Universidad Catolica at RFK Stadium.
While a late equalizer from Jamil Walker gives United a fighting chance in next Thursday's second leg in Santiago, coach Peter Nowak and his players were yet again left lamenting their inability to convert possession into goals.
"From the chances we had, we're supposed to win this game," said Nowak. "The goal at halftime, I was really discouraged for everyone - we were supposed to have a couple of goals at that point. On this level you have to play a little bit smarter."
A speculative long ball from Catolica defender Mauricio Zenteno flummoxed his United counterpart, Facundo Erpen, and allowed Jorge Quinteros to sneak in and chip over goalkeeper Nick Rimando for a priceless score that could prove to be the deciding factor under the Sudamericana's away goals rule.
"We thought we were in halftime already and going into the locker room," said a rueful Rimando. "We just fell asleep and let an easy goal in. The ball came over the top, we were out of position, and they got a late goal that put us on our heels a little bit."
Nowak constantly emphasizes the importance of "running and fighting" to his team, and for all their possession and slick combination play, they would have come away with nothing were it not for a timely display of those qualities from second half substitute Jamil Walker.
As United pressed forward in the 80th minute, a Santino Quaranta pass failed to connect with Walker's run into the Catolica box, but it ricocheted off center back Facundo Imboden and Walker forced his way onto the ball to squeeze a shot past netminder Jose Maria Buljubasich.
"Sometimes that's what it takes," said Walker. "You can't score the beautiful goal every time, you've got to poke balls in, get a deflection, stuff like that. Personally, I didn't see some of the fight that we normally have when we're at home. But we were starting to get more chances, and that was what was keeping us going."
The 1-1 draw means that next week at the San Carlos de Apoquindo, United will have to win or tie while scoring at least one goal in order to advance.
"It was scrappy, for sure," said Quaranta. "We weren't quite as sharp as I thought we were. We didn't finish our chances, either. We've just got to finish those chances off, especially in this type of tournament, with the away goals meaning so much. They got one, and we're just going to have to fight down there. It's going to be another scrap, another fight."
Charles Boehm is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.