WASHINGTON - D.C. United entered the return leg of their CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal on Thursday in need of a minor miracle: down three to Costa Rican side Alajuelense, they’d need to keep a clean sheet and put up a trifecta of their own to advance to the semis.
And they’d have to do it in conditions that could best be described as dismal; ahead of a major snowstorm, RFK Stadium was drenched in sheets of near freezing rain, the pitch torn up more and more with every cut and pivot.
It was too big an ask. United could only find the back of the net twice, a Jairo Arrieta bullet and late PK washed away by an Alajuelense strike in the second stanza. The 2-1 result brought the series aggregate to 6-4, eliminating United from the competition.
Alajuelense bucked a bit of conventional wisdom, choosing to press for an early dagger instead of bunkering in, and they nearly got their first at the quarter hour mark. Ticos defender Porfirio Lopez ran onto an inswinging corner kick, redirecting the effort goalwards. United keeper Bill Hamid - back in action after recovering from a back injury - smothered the effort. Four minutes later, the Costa Ricans would nearly get the opener again on an audacious 50-yard effort from Ariel Rodriguez, one barely tipped over the bar by Hamid as he tracked back towards his own net.
United would get their first legitimate chance at the 26 minute mark. Newly-minted designated player Fabian Espindola’s winding run to the end line produced a beautiful cross, giving D.C. defender Bobby Boswell a clear look at goal. His headed effort would skim just wide of the far post.
36 minutes in, United would make it interesting. Nick DeLeon would collect an Espindola pass at the right edge of the box, sending it towards the penalty spot with a low, driven cross. The service deflected off a Alajuelense defender and directly into the path of an onrushing Arrieta, who one-timed it past the outstretched arms of Alajuelense keeper Dexter Lewis.
A game that was already testy boiled over just before halftime. D.C. head coach Ben Olsen was shown to the locker room after a vocal exchange with the referee; shortly thereafter, players from both sides were shown yellows — six in total were issued in the first half — after a post-whistle shoving match.
D.C. pushed forward from the get-go in the game’s second half. Espindola nearly doubled United’s lead in the 51st, controlling the ball 10 yards from goal before sending a right-footed attempt inches wide of the near post.
Against the run of play, the Costa Ricans put the game away in the 71st minute. Armando Alonso played a looping ball forward, a pass which United defender Chris Korb managed to push aside.
Unfortunately for D.C., Korb’s misplayed clearance ended up at the feet of Johan Venegas, whose deflected effort eluded Hamid and doused United’s hopes of a comeback. Espindola’s late PK after substitute Michael Farfan was brought down in the box — a minute from the full-time whistle — was too little, too late.
D.C.’s elimination leaves the Montreal Impact as the lone MLS entrant remaining in CCL play; United will look to re-group before welcoming that very same Impact side to RFK to open the 2015 MLS season this coming Saturday.