United Falls to 0-2 in Champions League

By Steven Goff
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 25, 2008

D.C. United withstood repeated threats before yielding goals 17 minutes apart and dropping its second consecutive Champions League match, 2-0, to Marathon last night in San Pedro Sula, Honduras.

United had settled in nicely after a scoreless first half and was dictating play when Milton Nuñez scored from 23 yards in the 66th minute and Erick Norales converted a header in the 83rd for Marathon (2-0), atop the four-team group.

United (0-2) will need to defeat Mexico City club Cruz Azul (1-1) next Wednesday at RFK Stadium to retain realistic hopes of finishing in the top two and advancing to next year's quarterfinals. Last week D.C. lost its tournament opener, 2-0, to Saprissa of Costa Rica (1-1).

The inaugural tournament is modeled after the European competition of the same name and will determine the best club in North and Central America and the Caribbean.

United -- winless in its last five games overall and in danger of missing the MLS playoffs for the first time in six years -- was without injured starters Marcelo Gallardo, Jaime Moreno and Santino Quaranta and suspended defender Devon McTavish.

Quaranta, who has been filling Gallardo's playmaking role, was scratched after suffering a deep shin and ankle bruise against Los Angeles on Saturday.

Defender Gonzalo Peralta, who has played sparingly the last 2 1/2 months because of sports hernia and hamstring ailments, returned from a long layoff and played the final 22 minutes.

United was under siege much of the first half, unable to contend with Marathon's speed, but Louis Crayton made several excellent saves and Craig Thompson prevented a seemingly sure goal by clearing Saúl Martinez's shot off the right post.

Thompson, a rookie midfielder, made his debut on the backline at right back.

After failing to convert three quality opportunities early in the second half, two by Thabiso Khumalo, United fell behind when Nuñez eluded sliding defender Marc Burch and ripped a right-footed shot into the left corner. Marvin Chávez initiated the sequence with one of his many assertive runs on the right flank against United's Gonzalo Martínez.

Crayton made consecutive reaction saves before Marathon secured the victory on Norales's running header to the far corner off of a free kick.

United (10-12-3 in MLS) will return to regular season play Sunday afternoon at FC Dallas.

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