D.C. United and Pumas UNAM shared the spoils Wednesday in a riveting CONCACAF Champions' Cup match at RFK Stadium, the teams playing to a 1-1 draw in the first leg of their semifinal series.
Christian Gomez gave United a 10th-minute lead in the pulsating game in front of a roaring crowd of 21,185, but Ailton da Silva converted a penalty six minutes into the second half to pull the two-time defending Mexican champion level as they withstood a high-pressure counterattack from United throughout the match.
The draw gives Pumas the upper hand in the total goals series heading into next Wednesday's return leg in the altitude of Mexico City.
With United at the start of their season and Pumas already halfway through the second half of their twin-season setup, Pumas came in with the thought they could overrun the MLS champion -- and they nearly did straight from the opening kickoff. Goalkeeper Nick Rimando had to be alert to palm a long-range shot over the bar for the match's first corner kick.
But United soon found their legs, and then shocked the raucous, confident Pumas supporters in attendance with a well-taken goal in the 10th minute, relying on classic Black-and-Red counterattacking.
Taking advantage of a turnover in the middle third, Jaime Moreno latched onto Steve Guppy's short pass and carried down the left side of the Pumas penalty box before lofting a precise cross into the path of Gomez's run.
The Argentinean playmaker made no mistake from close range, rising to head past Pumas netminder Sergio Bernal into the upper right corner and drive RFK into pandemonium.
Stung by the early strike from their northern counterparts, Pumas leaped into the attack with renewed intensity, keyed by the entertaining Brazilian Ailton da Silva on the left wing.
Running onto da Silva's well-placed cross from the left, Pumas striker Ismael Iniguez was unlucky not to level matters with a 14th-minute diving header that he somehow nodded back across the face of goal and wide.
The game was freely swinging from end to end as both sides seemed eager to counterattack, which only opened up spaces for the opposing side to respond in kind. While the furious pace seemed unsustainable for a full match, it was elating to supporters on both sides as they cheered their teams on.
United were clearly riding their luck, and looking less than confident at the back. Ailton was eager to run at someone every time he touched the ball, and Stokes was usually the unlucky defender on the spot. However, despite the constant danger from the Brazilian, United settled into a more defensive posture, tracking the visitors' frenetic runs around the box and eyeing occasional opportunities to pressure the Mexican back line.
After the break, controversy erupted in the 51st minute when Leandro Augusto's left-wing cross sailed harmlessly across the United box and rolled to Galindo, who crumpled under the weight of an innocuous challenge from a backtracking Moreno. But referee Navarro took the bait and pointed to the spot.
Ailton stepped up to take the penalty and juked Rimando before cheekily tapping the ball to the 'keeper's right, drawing the visitors level at 1-1.
Despite the score, Pumas were clearly anxious to dispose of their less glamorous opposition, and as United's constant harrying tested their fitness, their frustration grew as the match wore on. The attractive possession play from Pumas was at times replaced by hopeful long balls at Stokes, who used his height to clear most of the danger.
Then in the 74th minute, Gomez sent in a good-looking service off a corner kick that wreaked havoc in the Pumas box. Olsen nodded a poor clearance back into the goalmouth that flummoxed Bernal, who flapped at the ball and allowed Stokes a free header that Beltran had to clear off the line.
As the minutes ticked away, Pumas appeared spent by the game's pace, relying almost exclusively on Augusto's possession skills in the holding mid spot and long blasts over the top in search of Botero. Netminder Bernal's leisurely-taken goal kicks betrayed his side's satisfaction with a road draw, which would put Pumas in good shape for the second leg in Mexico City.
In injury time, Gros swung the ball wide to Freddy Adu on the left as the home side countered at pace and after juking his way past a defender the young phenom hit a powerful shot on the run only to have it parried by Bernal, who was well off his line.
Then it was Pumas turn to counterattack as Iniguez raced upfield, drawing in the defense before laying off a tantalizing centering pass for Botero as he raced into the box. The home support held its collective breath as Rimando raced out to smother the threat, but the quick Californian sprawled well to corral the ball and avert the danger.
After a nail-biting five minutes of injury time, Navarro finally blew his whistle for full time, ending an entertaining match that saw MLS conduct itself well against Mexico's best. But the 1-1 draw squarely tips the advantage to Pumas as they look to overwhelm the Black-and-Red at their fortresslike home ground, the Estadio Olimpico Universitario, next Wednesday.
Charles Boehm is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.
Pumas vs. D.C. United
April 6, 2005 -- RFK Stadium
DC -- Christian Gomez (Jaime Moreno, Steve Guppy) 10
PUM -- Ailton da Silva (penalty kick) 52
Pumas -- Sergio Bernal, Israel Castro, Joaquin Beltran, Gonzalo Pineda, Dario Veron, Gerardo Galindo, Leandro Augosto, Ailton da Silva (Joaquin del Olmo 85), Fernando Espinosa, Joaquin Botero, Ismael Iniguez.
Substitutes Not Used: Bruno Marioni, Fernando Morales, Marco Palacios, Odin Patino, Hugo Sanchez, Efrain Velarde.
TOTAL SHOTS: 12 (Ailton da Silva 3, Fernando Espinosa 3); SHOTS ON GOAL: 6 (6 tied with 1); FOULS: 14 (Leandro Augosto 3, Dario Veron 3); OFFSIDES: 9 (Ailton da Silva 5); CORNER KICKS: 8 (Leandro Augosto 4); SAVES: 4 (Sergio Bernal 4)
D.C. United -- Nick Rimando, David Stokes, Bobby Boswell, Mike Petke, Joshua Gros, Brian Carroll, Christian Gomez (Freddy Adu 79), Ben Olsen, Steve Guppy (Santino Quaranta 70), Alecko Eskandarian (Jamil Walker 85), Jaime Moreno.
Substitutes Not Used: Troy Perkins, Eliseo Quintanilla, Clyde Simms, Nick Van Sicklen.
TOTAL SHOTS: 13 (Brian Carroll 3, Ben Olsen 3); SHOTS ON GOAL: 5 (Christian Gomez 2); FOULS: 16 (6 tied with 2); OFFSIDES: 1 (Jaime Moreno 1); CORNER KICKS: 7 (Christian Gomez 3); SAVES: 5 (Nick Rimando 5)
PUM -- Joaquin Beltran (caution; Professional Foul) 21
DC -- David Stokes (caution; Delaying a Restart) 55
PUM -- Gerardo Galindo (caution; Reckless Foul) 83
PUM -- Leandro Augosto (caution; Tackle from Behind) 90
Referee: Mauricio Navarro
Referee's Assistants: -Greg Barkey; George Vergara
4th Official: Alex Prus
All Statistics contained in this boxscore are unofficial.