D.C. United Ties Toluca of Mexico, 1-1, in Champions League Play
D.C. United didn't break American soccer's winless spell in Mexico on Tuesday night, but thanks to rookie Chris Pontius's spectacular first-half goal, United earned a 1-1 tie with Toluca and improve its chances of advancing to the quarterfinals of the CONCACAF Champions League.
United (3-2-1, 10 points) will now await the result of the Group B finale between Honduran club Marathon (3-2, nine) and San Juan Jabloteh (0-5, none) on Thursday in Trinidad and Tobago. Because United holds the tiebreaker, Marathon must win in order to prevent the MLS team from advancing.
Toluca (4-1-1, 13 points) has already advanced to next year's quarterfinals in a tournament comprising the top teams from North and Central America and the Caribbean.
Playing at an elevation of nearly 8,800 feet and without regulars Ben Olsen, Jaime Moreno and Clyde Simms, United kept pace throughout the first half before laboring to thwart Toluca after intermission. Neither the U.S. men's national squad nor an MLS club has ever beaten a Mexican team in Mexico.
United, however, got off to a wondrous start when Pontius chested down the ball in the sixth minute and smashed a 25-yard one-timer into the right side of the net, his second goal against Toluca in the tournament.
Toluca had a breakaway -- and apparent goal -- disallowed by what appeared to be an incorrect offside call in the 26th minute. Steve Cronin, making his second straight start in net for United, made a diving save 11 minutes later, and with seconds left in the half, Raúl Nava's header, set up by Isaac Brizuela's cross, struck the crossbar.
Cronin punched away a long-distance bid in the 57th minute before a sharp combination involving Pontius led to reserve Rodney Wallace's angled 10-yarder just over the crossbar.
Toluca pulled even in the 62nd minute after Nestor Calderon beat Lawson Vaughn and was upended by the United defender on the left side of the box. Reserve Israel López easily beat Cronin with a low penalty kick.
Devon McTavish's diving header in the 64th went wide and Nava missed from 15 yards. Cronin followed with a superb one-on-one save in the 73rd minute and United withstood persistent pressure in the closing moments to finish group play with a four-game unbeaten streak after losing its first two matches.
United will close its MLS regular season schedule Saturday night at Kansas City, needing a victory and favorable results in other games to secure a playoff berth.