By Steven Goff
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, July 16, 2008
D.C. United began its tournament-clogged calendar with bigger ambitions than winning the SuperLiga, an MLS-Mexican marketing concoction that offers modest returns. That said, United has not distinguished itself well in the second-year event, and following a 3-2 loss to Atlante last night, it teetered on the brink of elimination.
Atlante, a 4-0 loser to Houston in its opener last weekend, scored just before and just after halftime to build a two-goal lead against a United defense that reverted to its wobbly, early-season form.
"There is no sugarcoating anything," Coach Tom Soehn said. "The performance, especially in the first half, was atrocious. There was no commitment, no passion. We came out flat all over, and that's unacceptable. . . .
"Today we accomplished all the things we did when we were 2-7 [in the regular season]. That's the team we looked like today, and that's not good enough."
Luciano Emilio halved the deficit in the 79th minute, but Atlante goalkeeper Federico Vilar stopped reserve Rod Dyachenko's blast late in added time to hand United its second consecutive loss after entering the eight-team tournament on an eight-game unbeaten run in all competitions.
In order to reach the semifinals, United (0-2) must defeat visiting Houston (1-1) by three goals Saturday and hope Chivas Guadalajara (2-0) beats Atlante (1-1) in Santa Clara, Calif. Late last night Chivas edged Houston, 1-0.
"We are very frustrated about how we have played in the tournament," Emilio said. "We can't be eliminated playing at home. It's definitely very disappointing right now."
Luis Gabriel Rey scored twice in the first half and Christian Bermúdez added a second-half strike from beyond the penalty area for Atlante. Francis Doe had United's first-half goal in front of 12,122 at RFK Stadium.
"To me, I thought they were underestimating us a little bit," Atlante Coach José Guadalupe Cruz said through an interpreter. "Whenever there is a wounded team like we were, I think you have to be careful."
Just like Saturday, when it fell behind in a 2-1 loss to Chivas, injury-hampered United conceded an early goal. Gabriel Pereyra slotted a pass through the heart of United's defense to the free-running Rey, who calmly beat Zach Wells to the lower right corner. It became a recurring scene in the first half, as Atlante exploited the passing channels and utilized superior speed to create opportunities.
United's defense continued to spring leaks and was fortunate not to concede another goal right away. Slowly but surely, United's attack gained traction and tested Vilar from distance.
In the 28th minute, D.C. drew even. Capping a well-tuned possession that included several one-touch passes, Francis Doe latched on to rookie midfielder Craig Thompson's cross on the far side and redirected the high-bouncing ball from four yards.
Atlante was undeterred. Six minutes after Rey forced a diving save by Wells, he restored Atlante's lead in the 44th. United defender Marc Burch missed a long ball, allowing Giancarlo Maldonado to run clear on the left. Rey made a near-post run, shook off Devon McTavish, collected the cross and beat Wells to the far corner.
United's problems continued four minutes into the second half as Bermúdez created separation from defender Bryan Namoff and curled a 19-yard shot out of Wells's extended reach and into the top far corner.
"I don't know if we could have contained any team the way we came out," Soehn said. "We came out in the second half with a little bit of life, but it's too late."
United pressed forward with urgency, but created few quality opportunities until Emilio broke through. With his back to the net, he waited on Jaime Moreno's pass just inside the area before turning and firing into the right side. Vilar then preserved the lead by controlling the box and denying Dyachenko's bid.
"This might have been a good thing for us to get a couple of bad results," Wells said, "and realize we can't ever get too comfortable."
United Notes: Emiliano Díaz, a right-sided midfielder from Argentine club San Lorenzo, will begin a tryout with the club soon, two sources familiar with the situation said.
Last season Díaz, 25, played for his father, Ramón, a former Argentine World Cup striker who coached River Plate for many years and recently took charge of Mexican power Club America after leaving San Lorenzo. . . .
Midfielder Santino Quaranta returned from a three-game injury absence by entering in the 71st minute. . . . Midfielder Marcelo Gallardo and defender Gonzalo Peralta remained inactive because of groin ailments. Midfielders Dan Stratford (knee) and Domenic Mediate (concussion) were also out.