D.C. United Routs San Juan Jabloteh, 5-1, in CONCACAF Champions League
Thursday, October 1, 2009
D.C. United's appearance at RFK Stadium on Wednesday night had the atmosphere and audience worthy of a preseason exhibition, belying the importance of a match that could help resuscitate a troubling year.
To its credit, United played with the urgency and conviction of a team performing in front of a sellout crowd against a more prominent opponent, thrashing San Juan Jabloteh of Trinidad and Tobago, 5-1, in the CONCACAF Champions League.
Just 3,411 spectators -- believed to be the smallest turnout for a United game at the dingy venue in nine years -- watched the club move a step closer to a quarterfinal berth in the tournament involving clubs from North and Central America and the Caribbean.
Following its third consecutive victory in the group stage, United (3-2, nine points) will turn its attention to Thursday's match between unbeaten Toluca of Mexico and Marathon of Honduras. If Marathon (2-2, six points) loses, United will clinch one of the group's two berths because, even if the teams finish even after the final games Oct. 20-22, D.C. wins the tiebreaker.
A Marathon draw Thursday would probably force United to earn a tie at Toluca (4-0) in its finale, but a Marathon victory would put it in position to advance with a win over Jabloteh (0-5) in its last game.
For now, United will savor two goals apiece by Thabiso "Boyzzz" Khumalo and Christian G?mez, a single strike by Fred, two assists by Rodney Wallace, and a 3-0 lead by halftime. The result helped ease the pain caused by Sunday's dreary regular season performance against San Jose that further jeopardized its MLS playoff hopes.
"Our mentality coming off a dramatic loss was pretty good," Coach Tom Soehn said. "Everyone is looking to rectify things. It's important to take a step in the right direction, but you also have to have a short memory" because United resumes league play Saturday at home against Chivas USA.
Rookie Milos Kocic, thrust into the starting job by Josh Wicks's shoulder and knee injuries, made two quality saves before Jerrel Britto scored in the 83rd minute.
Three United players served suspensions -- Dejan Jakovic and Avery John for yellow card accumulation, Jaime Moreno for a red card -- while Bryan Namoff (concussion) and Santino Quaranta (quadriceps) were not in uniform and Ben Olsen and Luciano Emilio were rested.
Fred returned from a benching and Khumalo made his first start since recovering from a broken wrist. G?mez, the veteran playmaker reduced to a reserve role in recent weeks, played withdrawn forward.
In the meeting with Jabloteh two weeks ago, United created little, conceded too much and sputtered to a 1-0 victory. This time, Jabloteh offered scant resistance.
In the 13th minute, Wallace's low cross was deflected out of goalkeeper Cleon John's reach and fell to G?mez for a six-yard smash. In the 30th, Chris Pontius led Fred in stride for a low finish to the far corner, the Brazilian's first goal since Aug. 1. Just before halftime, Clyde Simms found G?mez, who stopped and cut back so abruptly as he approached the six-yard box, defender Joel Russell tumbled. G?mez crossed to Khumalo for a one-timer into the vacant right side.
G?mez and Wallace worked a combination in the 68th minute, capped by G?mez's 15-yard drive. After Jabloteh's goal, Khumalo struck a 22-yarder into the lower left corner during injury time.
"We controlled the ball in midfield, we were able to counterattack on them and we found a team that wasn't the best opponent," G?mez said. "It was a good win for us."