United Is Shut Down at Home by Toluca in Champions League Play

By Steven Goff
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, August 27, 2009

D.C. United began the year with grand domestic and international objectives, but after another loss in the CONCACAF Champions League on Wednesday night, the MLS club will surely have to throw almost all of its efforts into U.S. pursuits.

In a summer that grows dimmer by the week, United dropped a 3-1 decision to Mexican club Toluca before an announced crowd of 8,834 at RFK Stadium. D.C. has lost the first two of its six games in the group stage of this tournament and gone winless in nine matches in all competitions since July 21.

With the club in danger of missing the league playoffs for the second straight year, United probably can't afford to invest resources into trying to finish first or second in the four-team group and advance to the quarterfinals. Besides the final eight MLS matches, D.C. also has to concern itself with defending its U.S. Open Cup title next week.

Toluca striker Hector Mancilla scored twice in a late six-minute stretch after Chris Pontius had drawn United even with a header shortly after halftime.

"Disappointing on all fronts," Coach Tom Soehn said. "We were manhandled in the first half. When we got the goal, it gave us a little spark, but on the day, in its entirety, it just wasn't good enough."

In his continuing effort to keep players fresh while juggling multiple competitions, Soehn offered a strange brew of young and old, experienced and novice. Although there were a few quality individual performances, the mixture didn't work.

"This balancing thing of trying to get some young guys in there or fresh guys, we are really going to have to re-think [it]. However we move forward . . . the effort has to be better," Soehn said. "We are having -- often -- three guys [who are not playing up to par] -- and it's three different guys. Otherwise, we are going to continue to go down the stretch with the same results."

Toluca (2-0 in group play) used only four starters from Sunday's 3-0 league victory over Santos Laguna. But there was no noticeable drop-off in the Red Devils' rhythm and interaction -- just interchangeable parts that understand the system.

They seized the lead in the fifth minute when Antonio Matias delivered a through ball into the penalty area. As right back David Habarugira tried to track Vladimir Marin, United goalkeeper Josh Wicks came off his line to disrupt the play or collect the ball. All three players converged, the ball popped loose and Marin tapped it into an open net.

"I don't think it was miscommunication; I just made a mistake," Wicks said.

Several United players lacked effort, resulting in sparse possession and no legitimate scoring opportunities. In the 33rd minute, Toluca probably should have had another goal, but Edgar Duenas's angled header from five yards missed the near side.

Santino Quaranta's entry after halftime provided a boost for United. With 1 minute 22 seconds gone, he served a cross from near the sideline to Pontius, who beat Duenas and directed a nine-yard header into the left side for his seventh goal in all competitions and first since June 17 at Seattle.

In the 68th minute, Devon McTavish set up Fred splendidly in the box, but the Brazilian's bid was weak and wide.

Mancilla's brilliance broke the tie in the 79th minute. Collecting the ball at the top of the box, he took on Marc Burch, shifted to his right, faked a shot, cut to his left to throw Burch off-balance and then cleverly touched the ball back to create space and blast a 10-yard shot to the far corner of the net.

Toluca poured on the pressure. Julius James disrupted a clear chance and Wicks made a leaping save before Mancilla latched on to Nestor Calderon's deflected cross at the back post for the easy finish in the 85th minute.

"It always seems like once we get that one [goal] back, we dropped off a little bit again," Quaranta said. "At some point, we have to understand that we have them on their heels. That's what we needed: the early goal in the second half. It's that one mistake or that one bad play that hurts us and puts us right back in the same predicament."

United Notes: The club is close to signing a player from its youth system for the first time, 18-year-old goalkeeper Bill Hamid of Annandale, sources close to the negotiations said. United has been without a third goalie since Louis Crayton's release two months ago.

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