United's Run in Champions' Cup Ends

Gonzalo Peralta and Fausto Pinto of Pachuca battle for the ball during the Champions' Cup semifinal before 17,329 at RFK.
Gonzalo Peralta and Fausto Pinto of Pachuca battle for the ball during the Champions' Cup semifinal before 17,329 at RFK. (By Toni L. Sandys -- The Washington Post)
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By Steven Goff
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, April 10, 2008

Under regular circumstances, D.C. United's feat in the closing minutes of last night's Champions' Cup match against Pachuca of Mexico -- scoring two goals to overcome a deficit and defeat the region's most dominant club this decade -- would have provided one of the most memorable victories in the team's 12-year history.

Instead, the 2-1 triumph left United one goal short in the two-game, total-goals series and, in the process, eliminated the MLS team in the semifinals for the third time in four years. It allowed Pachuca to retain its hopes of repeating as champion of the 46-year-old tournament and returning to the world championship late this year in Japan. In the Champions' Cup finals, Los Tuzos will play Saprissa (Costa Rica), which routed Houston, 3-0.

The result left United lamenting several missed opportunities and prompted Coach Tom Soehn and his players to howl about the officiating. And before storming from the interview room, Soehn criticized MLS Commissioner Don Garber for comments he made recently about the team.

After winning the first leg, 2-0, at home last week, Pachuca all but secured advancement on Damián Alvarez's strike in the 76th minute. United, though, took the lead in the game and drew within one in the series on goals by reserves Rod Dyachenko and Franco Niell in the 85th and 90th minutes, respectively. But it could not muster any additional threats and, despite improving its all-time record at RFK against Mexican teams to 5-0-4, United fell short in the first of its three international competitions this year.

"We had a plan and I thought we executed it very well," Soehn said. "Unfortunately, we didn't put away our chances early and that put us behind the eight ball. The one thing we couldn't account for is some of the calls we got, which are game-changers."

United was particularly upset about a sequence early in the second half when Pachuca defender Leobardo López appeared to tug the arm of Fred, United's Brazilian midfielder, as he approached the six-yard box. Fred went down, but referee Jose Aguilar allowed play to continue.

"I was surprised I didn't get a call," Fred said through an interpreter. "I was getting ready to, I thought, score a goal."

Added teammate Luciano Emilio, though an interpreter: "The whole stadium saw it. The referee lacked personality in not making that call."

Soehn watched a replay in the locker room after the match and concluded: "That's a PK anywhere in the world. Our guys earned and deserved better."

Nonetheless, United's inability to finish scoring chances was perhaps more responsible for the loss. Soehn used an attack-oriented starting lineup, lifting defender Marc Burch in favor of forward Jaime Moreno, and although United created opportunities, it could not convert them until it was almost too late.

Marcelo Gallardo's audacious volley from 23 yards streaked over the crossbar and Emilio's bid in the box was blocked. Emilio had two golden chances in the final 20 minutes of the first half, but his touch on Devon McTavish's cross sent the ball spinning fractionally wide of the far post and, while in the act of shooting from 12 yards, he had the ball swept away by sliding defender Marvin Cabrera.

Pachuca threatened early in the second half, but Andrés Chitiva's shot went narrowly wide and Zach Wells soared to punch a López header over the crossbar.

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