By Steven Goff
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 16, 2007
Under normal circumstances, Luciano Emilio's goal in the waning moments of D.C. United's 1-1 draw with Mexican club Chivas last night would have been cause for hysterical celebration.
Make no mistake, United and its supporters rejoiced in the rain and cold at RFK Stadium after the late equalizer by its newly acquired Brazilian striker. But the harsh reality was that United had to work very hard just to salvage a tie at home and now faces the prospect of having to win the final leg of the two-game, total-goals series April 3 in Guadalajara to advance to the Champions' Cup finals.
"Absolutely, we're disappointed," midfielder Ben Olsen said. "We needed to get a result, but we didn't. It's a 1-1 tie, so it's done. It's not the end of the world. We've got a tough challenge ahead of us in Mexico . . . but we know now we can play with this team."
United struggled to keep pace before a pro-Chivas crowd of 26,528. D.C. yielded Omar Bravo's deflected goal in the 63rd minute and seemed headed for defeat. But in the first minute of injury time, Emilio's five-yard header off Christian Gomez's free kick from just outside the penalty area provided United with a glimmer of hope heading into the finale. It should be noted, though, that an MLS team has never won a competitive match in Mexico.
"I don't think we played our best game, especially the first half, I don't think we were very good at all," midfielder Josh Gros said. "We were a little bit fortunate to get that goal, but it's not the worst result for us. But it's going to be even tougher than it was here."
This was United's home leg of the series, but you would not have known it from the reception the players received before and during the game. Chivas, Mexico's most popular and most decorated club, does not often play on the U.S. East Coast, so its appearance here drew supporters from long distances.
The Mexicans dictated play from the start, using their quickness and cohesion to stretch United and force it to chase the game. United labored to generate an attack, choked by Chivas's intense pressure in midfield.
"I was a little disappointed in the way we came out and our mentality toward the game," D.C. Coach Tom Soehn said. "We didn't handle the pressure well."
United absorbed the pressure and created the first serious chance in the 23rd minute when Emilio set up Gomez. A moment later, D.C. goalkeeper Troy Perkins touched Francisco Rodriguez's rising bid over the crossbar.
United played with greater urgency after the break and held more possession, but true scoring opportunities were difficult to come by. Just as United was gaining confidence, Chivas countered with several penetrating threats.
The pressure paid off when Bravo, a two-goal scorer for Mexico in last year's World Cup, calmly waited at the back post for Sergio Santana's bending cross and sent a 10-yard header off defender Bryan Namoff and past Perkins.
Luis Michel preserved the lead two minutes later, diving to slap aside Jaime Moreno's 24-yard bid, but in injury time, Emilio peeled away from his defender and scored his fourth goal in three matches.
Asked to look ahead to Game 2 and imagine what it's going to be like playing in front of a Mexican audience, Olsen responded: "Didn't we just do it?"
United Notes: Fred, the Brazilian midfielder-forward who is awaiting international clearance before officially joining the club, watched the game from the mezzanine level. . . . Midfielder Brian Carroll was among 24 players called up to the U.S. national team for the March 25 friendly vs. Ecuador in Tampa and the March 28 match vs. Guatemala in Frisco, Tex.
· DYNAMO 2, PACHUCA 0: Brian Ching and Chris Wondolowski scored second-half goals as host Houston defeated the Mexican club in the first leg of their semifinal. Game 2 is April 5 at Pachuca.