D.C. United did almost everything right on Tuesday night.
United fought through some early doldrums, put nine shots on frame and -- for several stretches -- looked like the team more likely to find the back of the net. At full time, though, it was Liga MX side Queretaro who emerged victorious, riding a pair of late goals to a 2-0 home victory in the opener of their CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals series.
The 2-0 hole, while not insurmountable, gives United quite the mountain to climb in the return leg at RFK Stadium next Tuesday.
D.C. head coach Ben Olsen was among those thinking that United deserved a better result, expressing that sentiment to the media in attendance after the match.
"Overall, I’m pleased with the performance of our group, and I think we’re better for having come down here and having this game and good effort," said Olsen. "I’m disappointed again with giving up that second goal. I think a draw or a 1-0 loss would have been a fairer result, but this is sport. Now we have to go back to D.C. and score a couple of goals of our own.”
United looked a bit rusty for the first half-hour of the match, which some observers may have predicted given that the club was playing in its first competitive match since last year’s MLS postseason and fielding a re-shaped midfield that included a pair of newcomers -- former Chicago Fire winger Patrick Nyarko and one-time Galaxy center-mid Marcelo Sarvas. Up top, diminutive attacker Luciano Acosta was entertaining but struggled to connect with Fabian Espindola.
As the game wore on, though, D.C. found a bit of a rhythm and nearly pulled ahead on a pair of occasions.
Defender Taylor Kemp came forward on a throw-in at the hour mark, collected the ball outside the 18-yard box and bent a powerful attempt that smashed off the crossbar. In the 70th minute, US national team center back Steve Birnbaum got his second good look of the game via a headed attempt that he directed off the mitts of Queretaro goalkeeper Tiago Volpi.
A minute later, Queretaro got their opener on a spectacular, 20-yard attempt by Yerson Candelo, then put the game away in the 83rd minute on an Edgar Benitez strike.
"This was about what I thought it was going to be,” said Olsen. "They were obviously in good form; we were going to have to defend for stretches. I thought we weathered the storm well. Give them credit, that’s a heck of a shot against [D.C. goalkeeper [Andrew] Dykstra, and then we give up a late one -- that one hurt. The second one hurt a little bit."
Despite the result, Olsen expressed confidence in his group’s ability to claw its way back into things at RFK next week.
"Of course [it’s possible.] I think we can take a lot of positives from this game," said Olsen. "I think when we play at home, because of the result, it’s simple: We have to be aggressive and make sure we score two goals and protect against the away goal. It’ll be a fine balance, but we’re looking forward to the return leg."