By Steven Goff
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 17, 2008
D.C. United saw a little red and too much purple.
United was already in a jam in its Champions League opener against Costa Rican club Saprissa last night, missing several injured regulars and trailing by a goal late in the first half, when Devon McTavish was red-carded for a challenge near the sideline.
Unable to recover from the deficit on the scoreboard or in man power, United dropped a 2-0 decision to a club affectionately known as La Monstruo Morado, or "the Purple Monster."
After viewing the videotape, United General Manager Dave Kasper called Mexican referee Marco Rodríguez's decision to eject McTavish "an absolute joke."
The incident occurred in the 35th minute in front of just 6,105 spectators, many in purple, at RFK Stadium. United's Santino Quaranta was in the process of fouling Alexander Robinson when McTavish entered the play and attempted to knock away the ball. As McTavish followed through and Rodríguez prepared to blow the whistle and cite Quaranta, Robinson appeared to take a theatric fall. Quaranta was assessed a yellow card and McTavish was sent off.
"I felt I was already in the tackle when the whistle blew," he said. "I wasn't expecting a red card. It was a little shocking."
Said Coach Tom Soehn, "My first impressions of [the call] were it was real soft."
Saprissa Coach Jeaustin Campos said he did not get a good look at the incident, but added, "Obviously the game turned after that because we had more space to work the ball."
Short-handed United did not generate much of an attack until it was too late. Walter Centeno had scored three minutes before McTavish's departure and Jario Arrieta struck from long distance early in the second half. Goalkeeper Keilor Navas then made three excellent saves to preserve the shutout in the first of six first-round games for each team as part of a tournament that will crown the best club in North and Central America and the Caribbean. United will play at Marathon of Honduras next week.
With the injuries and 12 MLS and Champions League games scheduled over six weeks, Soehn could not utilize his best lineup last night. The back line and central midfield remained the same and top scorer Luciano Emilio made his first start in two weeks, but Soehn also inserted rookie Ryan Cordeiro onto the front line, newly acquired Thabiso Khumalo on the right flank, rookie Craig Thompson on the left and Zach Wells in goal.
Wells had not appeared in more than a month, the result of his dodgy play, the arrival of Liberian Louis Crayton and, to a smaller extent, a foot injury. With Crayton nursing a sore knee and preparing to start most of the remaining games, Soehn turned to Wells, who performed well.
On Saprissa's first goal, McTavish was preparing to clear a loose ball from the penalty area when Alejandro Alpízar, on the ground, knocked the ball back to Centeno for a 19-yarder into the lower right corner.
Three minutes later, United's situation darkened when McTavish was dismissed.
As United continued to labor on attack, Saprissa doubled the lead in the 52nd minute when Arrieta lashed a left-footed shot from 22 yards into the far side. In the final 22 minutes, Navas blocked Khumalo's left-footer inside the box, snared Clyde Simms's angled header and soared on Marc Burch's thunderous free kick.
"I thought we could have played with them and pulled out a win," Burch said, "but when you lose a man, you are chasing the game. And you are also down a goal, so you are chasing it for two reasons."