D.C. United Advances to U.S. Open Cup Semifinals

D.C. United's Thabiso Khumalo, right, goes down during first-half action against Harrisburg. Khumalo's goal opened the scoring against the City Islanders and sparked United to the U.S. Open Cup semifinals.
D.C. United's Thabiso Khumalo, right, goes down during first-half action against Harrisburg. Khumalo's goal opened the scoring against the City Islanders and sparked United to the U.S. Open Cup semifinals. (By Katherine Frey -- The Washington Post)
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By Paul Tenorio
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Facing a Harrisburg City Islanders team that upset it two years ago in the same tournament was likely enough for the third-tier professional team to garner the full attention of D.C. United entering last night's U.S. Open Cup quarterfinal match.

And if it wasn't, last week's sloppy performance in which D.C. struggled to distance itself from an amateur team provided another reminder that these tournament wins don't come easy.

But after appearing to have squelched any upset hopes early by scoring twice in the opening 20 minutes, United again struggled to put a lesser team away and had to survive its own complacency late to get past USL2 side Harrisburg, 2-1, in front of 2,137 at Maryland SoccerPlex in Boyds.

D.C. advances to face USL1's Rochester Rhinos -- 2-1 winners over the Wilmington Hammerheads -- on July 21 in the semifinals at Maryland SoccerPlex.

"I think we thought we had the game won and forgot what it takes to do that," United Coach Tom Soehn said.

United came out the aggressor, seeking the first goal in hopes of quelling any thoughts the visitors may have had of a second upset in as many years.

Pushing forward through the speedy play of Ange N'Silu and Thabiso Khumalo up top, D.C. had looks at the goal in the first and second minutes of play. And Andrew Jacobson's header in the sixth minute off a Fred corner kick was cleared off the far post by a defender.

United's clear superiority led to a feeling of inevitability, and the continued pressure paid off in the eighth minute when Devon McTavish's cross to the far post found Khumalo, who was left with far too much space inside the 18-yard box and easily headed home to give D.C. the advantage.

"I think the ball kind of skipped, the defender didn't expect it to skip," Khumalo said. "So right after the skip I was right there to head it in and the keeper was coming out to try to stop it or whatever so I just got there before he got there."

The lead was doubled 10 minutes later when Fred's corner kick again found Jacobson about 12 yards out on the far post, and the 6-foot-2 defender's well placed header this time found no obstacles to keep it out of the net.

With a comfortable edge, D.C. was content to hold the ball and possess, but they struggled to punish Harrisburg in the attacking third and several chances were wasted.

In the 26th minute, McTavish's well-timed run was rewarded by Fred, who sent the midfielder in on goal only for McTavish to stop the ball near the end line and try to lay it back to the Brazilian, where it was easily cleared by a defender.

Fred found himself with a clear look at goal from within 15 yards in the 32nd minute, but his weak right-footed offering was easily saved. And the creative midfielder missed the target in the 43rd minute when after some nice combination play a ball was laid back and into his path near the top of the box.

Harrisburg threatened on occasion to penalize United for failing to put the game out of reach, with Harrisburg's Ty Shipalane, twice creating chances in the first half, but United held its edge at the break.

The City Islanders could have fallen further into a hole when captain Mo Oduor was sent off for serious foul play after appearing to have elbowed John DiRaimondo in the 49th minute. But instead, D.C. slowed and Harrisburg took advantage.

The City Islanders pulled to within one when Shipalane's run set up a goal by Nicki Paterson in the 64th minute. And United was saved by the crossbar nine minutes later when Harrisburg midfielder David Schofield's shot from within six yards slammed off the pipe to keep United in front.

"I think we kind of made it hard on ourselves just by not putting our chances away," United midfielder Rodney Wallace said. "And then by them opening up the field on us a little bit. Even though they were a man down I feel like they still were able to get the best of us in the last five to 10 minutes but at the end of the day we got the win and we're going to the semifinals."

United Note: Wallace entered in the 29th minute for Brandon Barklage, who went down with a right knee injury. Barklage is scheduled to undergo an MRI and will be further evaluated today.

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