By Steven Goff
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, March 30, 2008
KANSAS CITY, Kan., March 29 -- D.C. United played its MLS opener on a chilly, wind-swept suburban stage Saturday night, but from the club's perspective, the match against the Kansas City Wizards was neither a debut nor the most important exercise of the spring.
Nonetheless, the 2-0 defeat before a sellout crowd of 10,385 at CommunityAmerica Ballpark did not sit well with a United team that retooled its roster in hopes of winning something other than a regular season title.
Ivan Trujillo and Claudio López, the Wizards' South American imports, scored 14 minutes apart early in the second half as Kansas City handed D.C. a decisive, early-season defeat for the second consecutive year.
Though United would have preferred a good result to start its league schedule, its bigger concern is clearly the first leg of the Champions' Cup semifinals Tuesday night at Pachuca (Mexico). Saturday's match was one of 30 regular season encounters, while that tournament, which United began this month by defeating a Jamaican club, provides an opportunity to win a regional trophy and earn a trip to the Club World Cup next winter.
"It's disappointing because it is a big week for us," forward Santino Quaranta said. "I don't think we were looking ahead, but we didn't come in with the right mind-set. . . . There was talk leading up to how we were going to juggle these two games -- it was always the two games."
With the Pachuca game on his mind, Coach Tom Soehn kept Brazilian wing Fred on the bench and started Domenic Mediate on the left flank. He removed defender Marc Burch and forward Franco Niell early in the second half and did not risk using team captain Jaime Moreno (hamstring injury).
"Unfortunately we have to go that route because we have a big game Tuesday," Soehn said. "That's the nature of the business; you have to try to manage some guys."
United played reasonably well during a scoreless first half. Niell, the rambunctious, 5-foot-4 Argentine starting in place of Moreno, pestered the Wizards' back line and took several dramatic tumbles.
True scoring opportunities were scarce, though. López, the Wizards' big preseason signing, set up Argentine compatriot Carlos Marinelli for a shot that sailed high in the third minute. Marcelo Gallardo, United's new playmaker, sent through Luciano Emilio for a rasping drive from 21 yards that goalkeeper Kevin Hartman punched over the crossbar in the 34th.
Shortly after halftime, the Wizards went ahead on a well-crafted sequence. Michael Harrington crossed from the left flank to an unmarked Jack Jewsbury, who served a low cross to Trujillo for a one-timer past goalkeeper Zach Wells.
"We had the guys marked up pretty well in the middle, but they found [Jewsbury, who] played a cross first time and we weren't able to catch up with it," Wells said.
Trujillo, a Colombian import, should have had another goal seven minutes later, but after being sent in alone and touching the ball past Wells, a highly questionable offside call negated it.
As expected, Soehn went to the bench in the 57th minute, replacing left back Burch with Fred and dropping Mediate to the back line and also inserting Quaranta for Niell.
The adjustments did not help. A minute after Gonzalo Peralta's apparent equalizer was repudiated by an offside call, L¿pez timed his run to get behind the defense, collected Ryan Pore's pass and lifted a shot that glanced off the fingertips of the advancing Wells.
"We just had a five-, 10-minute span there where we were kind of all over the place, we were chasing the game a little bit and they came out sharper the first 15 minutes of the second half and made us pay for it," Wells said.
United's play turned urgent and Emilio crossed to Peralta for a shot that drew a routine save from Hartman. Confusion between Wells and Peralta nearly resulted in another Kansas City goal late in the match, and soon United was turning its attention to its Mexico trip.
"I don't think it was a distraction," Burch said, "but we do have another game in a couple days and now we have to get ready for that one."
United Notes: Midfielder-forward Rod Dyachenko served a one-game suspension for a red card in last season's playoff finale and will travel with the team to Mexico. . . . Wizards midfielder-defender Chance Myers, the No. 1 overall draft pick from UCLA, was not in uniform because of a toe injury. . . . Wizards reserve forward Amir Lowery is a District native and Wilson High graduate.