D.C. United Beats New York Red Bulls, 5-3, in a U.S. Open Cup Play-In Game

United's Thabiso Khumalo (17), who scored one goal, runs the ball toward the net during a U.S. Open Cup play-in game against New York at RFK Stadium.
United's Thabiso Khumalo (17), who scored one goal, runs the ball toward the net during a U.S. Open Cup play-in game against New York at RFK Stadium. (By Toni L. Sandys -- The Washington Post)
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By Steven Goff
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, May 21, 2009

D.C. United gained passage to the U.S. Open Cup last night with a 5-3 victory over the New York Red Bulls, but after a sterling early presentation, United hardly looked like the tournament's defending champion.

A four-goal lead after just 26 minutes twice shrank to two and the Red Bulls repeatedly threatened to tighten an entertaining but careless match in front of an announced 5,056 at RFK Stadium.

"We talked about not becoming complacent, and we really got complacent," United Coach Tom Soehn said. "We could have let up as many goals as we scored."

Powered by rookie Chris Pontius's two goals and assist, United moved into the round of 16 of the 95-year-old Open Cup, which involves clubs from all levels of American soccer. It will face a lower-division opponent June 30 at a venue to be determined.

Despite winning the title last year, United was forced to qualify for the tournament because of its poor finish in MLS last season.

With only four starters in the lineup and five regulars not in uniform, United showed off its attacking depth by overwhelming the Red Bulls in the first half. Pontius, who has started at forward, playmaker and outside midfield, was thrust into a deep midfield role for the first time and scored on headers early in each half.

Thabiso Khumalo, Brandon Barklage and Fred also had goals, and Christian Gómez added two assists in one half of work for United, which is 5-1-6 in all competitions.

"Things were definitely clicking," Pontius said. "I think we could've been up like 6-0."

Counting the two goals late in Saturday's league game at Chivas USA and the early uprising against New York, United increased its goal total to six in a 39-minute span.

In the eighth minute, Pontius nodded Gómez's corner kick into the left corner from seven yards. In the 18th, Khumalo timed Gómez's through ball to stay onside for a breakaway. After wheeling past goalkeeper Danny Cepero, his angled shot was en route to the open target when desperately retreating defender Danleigh Borman deflected it into the net. Rightfully so, Khumalo was credited with the goal -- his first since September.

Three minutes passed before Cepero made a mess of Ange N'Silu's cross, allowing Barklage to stab a one-timer -- his second goal in Open Cup qualifying.

There was more to come in the 26th minute, courtesy of New York's abominable defending. Fred ran onto a long ball and made a clear run at Cepero, who blocked the initial shot. The rebound struck Fred in the torso, and with his momentum taking him and the ball past Cepero, Fred regained control and exuberantly smashed it into the vacant opening.

Josh Wicks, in a three-man battle for the No. 1 goalkeeping slot, made his first appearance since the second week of the regular season. Late in the first half, he had a splendid save on Khano Smith's bending shot but was beaten a minute later when Dane Richards got behind central defender Greg Janicki.

United's sloppiness continued at the start of the second half, allowing Jorge Rojas to volley from 16 yards and slice the deficit to 4-2. Pontius answered four minutes later, beating defender Carlos Mendes to Fred's cross for a header over Cepero, but Janicki's handball led to Rojas's penalty kick in the 61st minute.

"It was maybe a little bit of a lapse in mind, thinking the game was already over," said Wicks, who was under steady pressure the final 20 minutes. "We had a nice lead and some guys maybe took the foot off the gas to conserve."

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