D.C. United beats Real Salt Lake in U.S. Open Cup on Andy Najar's overtime goal

By Katie Carrera
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, June 3, 2010

For much of Wednesday night's U.S. Open Cup play-in match, D.C. United and Real Salt Lake remained deadlocked in an elaborate game of chicken. With an MLS contest looming between the two on Saturday, neither club wanted to reveal too much in this appetizer contest, and both played several reserves. United held on to its final substitution on this hot, muggy evening at RFK Stadium for as long as possible, hoping fresh legs could shift the balance. The plan worked to perfection.

In the 106th minute -- midway through the 30-minute overtime -- midfielder Andy Najar began bouncing on the sideline, waiting to enter the game. One minute later, Najar gained possession of the ball in the box, danced in front of two Real Salt Lake defenders and threaded a ball to the far left corner of the goal for a 2-1 edge. The lead held up as United won its third straight contest overall and continued to build its momentum after the worst start in franchise history.

"I was able to get in front of the defender and had an opportunity to tap it in," Najar, 17, said through a interpreter. "There's a real positive attitude with the team right now. I think we're feeling good about ourselves and hopefully we can continue that going into the game against Salt Lake Saturday."

Appearing in his eighth game this season, Najar, who scored a goal in United's previous U.S. Open Cup play-in match on April 28 against FC Dallas, continues to gain confidence, His growing moxie has not gone unnoticed by teammates.

"He's a dynamic type of player who has a fearlessness in what he does," midfielder Santino Quaranta said. "He did well, he came in and he's fun to watch. He came in and he changed the game."

The win gives D.C. its third consecutive appearance in the round of 16 of the U.S. Open Cup. Through the first 75 minutes, though, little balance shifted and it was unclear which team might advance.

Both United and Salt Lake, the defending MLS Cup champion, watched shots sail wide of the net or over the crossbar. Goalkeeper Troy Perkins (six saves) kept matters scoreless in the 30th minute when he tipped away a shot from Salt Lake midfielder Will Johnson. United wasn't without opportunities, either. A minute after Perkins's save, Luciano Emilio found Thabiso "Boyzzz" Khumalo streaking into the box but his shot drifted wide left.

It wasn't until a pair of handball calls six minutes apart late in the second half -- one each on United and Salt Lake -- resulted in penalty kicks that turned a scoreless tie into a 1-1 match. Luciano Emilio scored in the 75th minute on a penalty that followed a handball by Salt Lake's Collen Warner. In the 81st minute, Real's Will Johnson returned the favor with a penalty kick goal after a handball call on Barry Rice.

The tallies did little to break the stalemate until Najar brought an immediate influx of energy when he subbed in for Khumalo. Najar's late game heroics simply sweetened a game that while not the most fluid, helped boost United's collective confidence as they try to climb back into the MLS standings.

"We're starting to get on the same page regardless of who is on the field," said defender Devon McTavish, who played the full 120 minutes. "I think that's finally starting to show."

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