D.C. United came into their Scotiabank Champions League quarterfinal encounter against Alajuelense looking to grab the same kind of improbable result as the Montreal Impact two days earlier, but left Costa Rica with their tails between their legs after dropping a 5-2 result that left them in a huge hole for the return leg of the series.
Things did not go as planned from the start for the lone remaining US team in the tournament, as Alajuelense played an energetic first half and would get their first chance just three minutes into the match, a headed effort by Jose Ortiz that skimmed just wide of the far post. Seven minutes later, Armando Alonso’s right-footed strike from outside the box would be dealt with well by United 'keeper Andrew Dykstra.
Dykstra – filling in for an injured Bill Hamid – looked comfortable in the game’s opening moments but would soon find himself at fault for a pair of Alajuelense goals.
In the 14th minute, Dykstra ranged far from goal to cut off a bouncing ball, instead meeting Costa Rican midfielder Armando Alonso just inside the left side of the penalty area. Dykstra promptly pulled him to the ground, leaving referee Roberto Garcia Orozco no other option than to issue a penalty kick and an accompanying yellow card. Alajuelense midfielder Ariel Rodriguez struck the ensuing attempt low and to Dykstra’s right for the opener.
Ortiz would double the lead in the 22nd minute, timing his run perfectly to meet a perfectly-weighted through ball before cooly slotting his attempt past a flat-footed Dykstra. Improbably, United managed to pull one back just two minutes later: Dykstra’s booming goal kick took a bounce on the turf before being headed forward by a leaping Chris Pontius. Espindola, D.C.'s newly-minted Designated Player, would loop a soft header over Alajuelense goalkeeper Dexter Lewis from the penalty spot, giving United a valuable away goal.
The normally sure-handed Dykstra would again find himself the center of attention for all the wrong reasons in the 27th minute when he badly mishandled a cross – a spill that Alajuelense midfielder Johan Venegas was happy to clean up for the home side’s third goal in less than half an hour.
Things went from bad to worse on the other half of the break. Ortiz would nab his second of the match, given too much space and time to drive a venomous right-footed attempt past an outstretched Dykstra at the near post from 17 yards out.
Still, United looked to have salvaged a manageable result when Birnbaum powered home a header in the 88th minute, running onto Espindola’s driven cross and thumping it home at the top of the six-yard box. Their joy would be short-lived: less than a minute later, an unmarked Jonathan McDonald capped the night off for Alajuelense, notching the club’s fifth and final goal from ten yards out.
Though D.C. enjoyed a bit more of the ball during the game’s second stanza, they simply never looked like winning – or even drawing – the match, played in front of a typically energetic Central American crowd. As a result, they'll need at least a 3-0 result in the return leg of the series, to be played at RFK Stadium on Wednesday (8 pm ET, Fox Sports 2).