SANTIAGO, Chile - A D.C. United defense that withstood a withering attack from home side Universidad Catolica finally yielded in the last 15 minutes of the second leg in the round-of-16 of the Copa Nissan Sudamericana, falling 3-2 on Thursday night to go out of the competition 4-3 on aggregate.
The North American visitors will regret that they could not supplement a two-goal first half advantage when they had the opportunity.
The game began in dream-like fashion for D.C., as Jaime Moreno and Christian Gomez connected for a goal in the 13th minute. The South American pair combined well throughout the evening until Gomez was substituted early in the second half, and a nice through ball from his Bolivian strike partner sent Gomez in for a perfect left-footed finish.
Moreno will also lament that he could not do better with a penalty awarded to the visitors just 10 minutes later. Jamil Walker ran onto a beautifully threaded pass from Dema Kovalenko and was shoved down in the area. Colombian referee Alberto Duque pointed to the spot, but Moreno pushed it softly to the left and Catolica goalkeeper Jose Maria Buljubasich guessed correctly, knocking the ball over the endline.
Gomez added to United's lead on aggregate just minutes later, sending a curving, speculative right-footed shot from just outside the area which hit the right post, then bounded off Buljubasich's back into the net. The crowd grew restless, whistling the home side's desultory play as United strung more than 10 passes together in one sequence.
Although the defending MLS Cup champions dined with U.S. Ambassador Craig Kelly hours before the game, their early goals made the contest anything but diplomatic, as an increasingly chippy affair saw both sides receive three yellow cards in the waning moments of the first half.
A slight defensive lapse just before the halftime break gave Catolica a lifeline. Eduardo Rubio, who also features in the Chilean national team, beat the D.C. defense down the left flank and centered a pass that Jorge Quinteros made no mistake with, sending the hinchas into temporary ecstasy.
United had a chance to extend the lead to two goals once again in the early moments of the second half, when Santino Quaranta and Gomez combined brilliantly. But Gomez's attempted chip was batted away by Buljubasich, and the home fans breathed a sigh of relief.
Nick Rimando was in full acrobatic form in the second half, as his goal was under constant siege for nearly the entire 45 minutes. He and the United defense took on wave after wave of attacks, and looked to have a respite when Freddy Adu entered the game in the 77th minute.
His presence affected the game, but in a negative way for the visitors, as one minute later he was whistled for pushing down a Catolica attacker just outside the box. Dario Conca made no mistake with a swerving left-footed free kick which settled into the upper left corner of Rimando's net.
D.C. still would have won on the away goals rule had they held out just 10 minutes longer, but it wasn't to be for a haggard side that was showing the signs of road fatigue. In the 87th minute Josh Gros attempted to clear a ball from the area, but the ball glanced off his head and fell for a gilt-edged chance for United nemesis Quinteros, who nodded home his second goal of the evening.
United will long rue the fact that they couldn't deal the death blow in the first half when given the opportunity, and Catolica will rejoice, knowing that they are guaranteed $110,000 in television and other rights for advancing to the quarterfinals of the competition to take on the winner of Banfield of Argentina and Brazil's Fluminense, who took a 3-1 victory in the first leg last week in Rio de Janeiro.
Brian Kluepfel is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.