Starters Sit, United Finished Off by Cruz Azul

By Steven Goff
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, October 2, 2008

As much as D.C. United would like to take the CONCACAF Champions League seriously, circumstances have forced the club to turn its full attention to a crumbling regular season. So when United faced Cruz Azul of Mexico City last night at RFK Stadium in the third of six first-round matches, the starting lineup reflected its readjusted priorities.

The result was no better -- a 1-0 loss to one of Mexico's most decorated teams before 7,214 spectators -- but United at least played with renewed determination. If not for Pablo Zeballos's farcical goal early in the second half, D.C. would have gained its first point in this inaugural regional tournament.

Instead, Cruz Azul (2-1) moved into a tie for first place with Marathon (Honduras) and Saprissa (Costa Rica) at the midway point of group play. United (0-3) was all but eliminated from contention for a quarterfinal berth and saw its winless streak in all competitions reach seven (0-6-1).

"The effort and the energy that a lot of the young guys brought on the field obviously mixed with some of the veteran guys was a good, quality performance," Coach Tom Soehn said. "The eagerness to go forward and the eagerness to defend was pretty good."

Soehn called upon only two of his starters from Sunday's debacle in Dallas, a 3-0 defeat that further damaged the club's MLS playoff hopes. Jaime Moreno remained in the lineup, but as a playmaker, not in his usual spot on the front line. Devon McTavish also was retained, but instead of being in central defense he was in defensive midfield. Marc Burch, who has started most of the year, was on the back line after sitting out Sunday's game with a red card suspension.

The rest of the lineup looked like one from a reserve division game: rookies Craig Thompson and Mike Zaher, backup goalkeeper Zach Wells, recently acquired defender Greg Janicki (making his debut), and reserves Quavas Kirk, Rod Dyachenko and Francis Doe. Joe Vide returned after being sidelined for several weeks with a hamstring injury.

The three reserves who entered were two rookies and a newly signed forward.

Though the skill level was lower, United's effort was higher. United took the game to Cruz Azul for much of the second half and had two quality opportunities to score. However, Thabiso Khumalo's drive hit the left post and Cruz Azul goalkeeper Alfonso Blanco used his hand outside the penalty area to thwart Doe's effort. United pleaded for a red card, but only received a free kick.

The visitors arrived here after losing to rival Club América on Sunday and, with the exception of three players, overhauled their starting lineup. The goal came in the 56th minute when César Villaluz powered a 25-yard shot that was heading badly off target. But Zeballos happened to be standing in its path, and as he turned away from it, the ball struck him in the lower back and deflected out of the reach of a committed Wells.

"You could say it was easy because it totally tricked the goalkeeper," said Zeballos, 22, a rising star from Paraguay.

Said Wells: "It was just silly. The guys fought hard all night, and to give up a fluky goal like that is disappointing."

United Notes: Moreno (10 goals, nine assists) will appeal part of his two-game suspension for elbowing Dallas's Andre Rocha in the face on Sunday. On the play, Moreno received a red card, which carries an automatic one-game suspension. He was suspended for an additional game by the league's disciplinary committee. Moreno is to miss Saturday's home game against Chivas USA and the Oct. 12 match at Houston. . . . Midfielder Ben Olsen's wife gave birth to their first child, Ruby.

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