Having already clinched a berth in the quarterfinals of CONCACAF Champions League play by virtue of winning their previous three CCL matches, D.C. United met Panamanian side Tauro at Estadio Rommel Fernandez in their group stage finale on Tuesday night looking for a little extra: a top-four seed in the tournament's knockout round.
United fielded a team made up primarily of reserves, leaving most of their regular starters back in the District to prepare for their MLS regular season finale at Montreal. It was a calculated gamble, and one that worked: United’s depth got the job done, weathering a second-half barrage and nabbing a 1-0 victory, thanks to a fortuitous game-winner from Conor Shanosky, putting D.C. in prime position for next spring's quarterfinals.
Tauro got their first look at goal about 10 minutes in when midfielder Vidal Gonzalez swung a ball into the area from the right flank that was turned toward goal by Ismael Diaz but missed the mark, sailing over the crossbar. Ten minutes later, Tauro defender Fernando Mena whipped a free kick across the box to Alcides de los Rios, but de los Rios’ flicked-on header was poorly placed, heading wide of the goal.
United’s game-winner was a bit fortuitous: Lewis Neal struck a free kick from 30 yards out that bent into the box and was headed away from goal by a Tauro defender – directly into Shanosky's face. The center back's unintentional strike couldn’t have been better, as the ball headed back toward goal and tucked just inside the near post for the only goal of the match.
Tauro had a golden chance to equalize in the 32nd minute when a perfectly placed through ball found a streaking Gonzalez, springing him in on goal alone. Gonzalez’s effort, though, left much to be desired, sailing harmlessly over the bar. In the 41st minute, Mena ran onto a loose ball at the top of the box and fired a rocket wide of goal.
The home side continued to apply pressure on the other side of halftime, though D.C. United had a goal disallowed in the 56th minute when Homegrown midfielder Collin Martin fired a rebound into the back of the net, only to be waved offside. Tauro’s efforts were frequent but ineffective; several attempts from inside the box in the game's final 20 minutes were struck well wide of goal.
Their best chance at equalizing was also their last: Second-half substitute Alejandro Velez struck a venomous free kick from 22 yards out in the 86th minute, his driven effort eluding D.C. United 'keeper Joe Willis but finding the crossbar before heading out for a goal kick. Willis added an outstanding save on a deflected effort in stoppage time to seal the deal.