By Steven Goff
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, July 22, 2009
D.C. United advanced to the U.S. Open Cup championship game for the second straight summer Tuesday night, but any celebrations were tempered by an opponent's gory ankle injury, a fractured wrist for the player who scored the winning goal and a seething losing coach.
The incidents eclipsed United's 2-1 victory over the second-division Rochester Rhinos before 2,457 at Maryland SoccerPlex, a result that landed the defending champions in the Sept. 2 final at RFK Stadium against MLS's Seattle Sounders, who defeated the Houston Dynamo, 2-1, in overtime.
Thabiso Khumalo converted a rebound in the 82nd minute before leaving the match in the final moments after a ball kicked by Rochester goalkeeper Tim Melia shattered his right wrist. A dozen minutes earlier, Rhinos midfielder Darren Kenton's foot was turned sideways on a challenge for the ball by United's John DiRaimondo. A foul was not called, and after consultation with one of his assistants, referee Abiodun Okulaja did not assess any cards -- a decision that infuriated Rhinos Coach Darren Tilley.
"I don't feel as though we were beaten by D.C. We were beaten by an official," he said. "And certainly when players break ankles like [Kenton] did and there's no yellow cards or [ejections], it really hurts. . . . An absolutely disgraceful challenge, even more disgraceful that nothing was done about it. There was intent to win the ball, granted, but he creamed him."
Still photographs, however, indicated Kenton might have turned the ankle when he planted his leg.
Said DiRaimondo, "It was a hard tackle, we were both going hard and unfortunately I think he landed wrong."
The injury deflated the Rhinos, the only lower-division team to win the Open Cup title (1999) since MLS began competing in the tournament 13 years ago. Despite being thoroughly outplayed, Rochester answered Jaime Moreno's penalty kick late in the first half with a goal by Tai Atieno in the 68th minute.
Between the equalizer, the incident and Rochester's renewed confidence, United lost its way. But with overtime looming, D.C. went back ahead. Bryan Namoff's long ball sailed over Kenney Bertz's head, freeing Chris Pontius for a breakaway. Melia made the save, but the rebound spun wide for Khumalo to sweep into the right corner -- the second straight Open Cup game in which he has scored.
Later, when Melia rushed out to disrupt a threat, the ball struck Khumalo's wrist. He was transported to an area hospital for X-rays and further prognosis.
United encountered a Rochester side that played so compactly, every touch in central positions was immediately challenged by two Rhinos. Possession was not a problem; breaking down a disciplined opponent was.
"We didn't do a good job moving the ball around," United Coach Tom Soehn said. "They clogged the middle and we kept playing into the middle. Second half we opened them up a little bit. These games are never easy when teams pack it in; it's hard to break them down. It's been three in a row [in the Open Cup] that we have had to do that. Eventually we will get good at it."
Despite their unimaginative approach, the Rhinos had quality scoring opportunities. Alone at the back post, Atieno misplayed a stray ball and Rochester drove in dangerous crosses.
Just before Moreno's penalty kick, Milos Kocic made a reflex save on Bertz's header off a corner kick. United countered rapidly and Devon McTavish's flick in the box apparently deflected off Ty Harden's hand. Moreno easily put away the penalty kick.
Melia made a superb save on Moreno's rising one-timer at the end of a swift counterattack early in the second half. United's mastery continued as the Rhinos went long spells without any quality interaction. Their only hope to score was off a set piece or a catastrophic mistake. In the 68th, both events occurred.
Andrew Gregor served a free kick into the penalty area. United failed to clear and Atieno poked the ball into the right corner.
The Rhinos' elation turned to horror when Kenton was injured and United's postgame festivities were muted by Khumalo's ailment.
Said Soehn, "It's disappointing because everybody worked hard and you never want to see any injuries -- period."