In a game that was encouraging to both sides, the Washington Diplomats defeated the U.S. under-20 national team, 3-1, last night in the opening game of the inaugural Ambassador Cup soccer tournament before 3,791 at RFK Stadium.
In the evening's second game, the Honduran national team got two goals in the opening five minutes from Leonel Suazo and went on to beat the Cosmopolitan Eagles, 3-1.
The tournament will conclude Sunday with the U.S. under-20 team playing the Eagles at 4 p.m. and the Diplomats playing Honduras at 6. The Diplomats and the Eagles are members of the newly formed American Soccer League.
Last night, the Diplomats, one of two Washington area entries in the ASL, were led by two first-half goals from midfielder Marcos Casas and fine defensive efforts from Darryl Gee, Ronnie Simmons and goalkeeper Steve Pfeil.
"Their skill level for the national team is better than it has ever been," said Gee, a graduate of Oakland Mills High School in Columbia who played on a U.S. national youth team before going on to the North American Soccer League's New York Cosmos. "They don't play kick-and-run anymore; they can pass the ball. But they still lack the ability to finish. And, unfortunately, that's the name of the game."
The U.S. team, which was without its two regular starters at wing and its top two goalkeepers, had a considerable territorial advantage in the first half, but was unable to transfer it to the scoreboard.
The U.S. team kicked off and almost immediately created a scoring opportunity. After maintaining control for nearly a minute, the U.S. ended up with striker Michael Constantino breaking free with the ball in the penalty area. However, Gee knocked the ball out on a tackle at the last moment and the U.S. was unable to convert on the corner kick.
In the game's sixth minute, Washington midfielder Casas produced a sign of things to come, sending a 35-yard drive just wide. About five minutes later, and from about five yards closer, Casas left U.S. goalkeeper Joe Mallia just about flat-footed when he sent a shot off the outside of his right foot from the right side that went up, up and away and into the upper left corner of the net.
In the 36th minute, Washington blew a marvelous opportunity to extend its lead. After being sent in alone against Mallia from 25 yards out, striker Fernando Iturbe took three dribbles and then sent a wild shot over the crossbar.
However, Casas and Mallia made up for that 1:10 before halftime. Casas sent a hard, but stoppable, 25-yarder toward the right post. Mallia, who normally plays on the U.S. under-18 team, did get a hand on the ball, but not a handle. The ball trickled off his arm, under his body and into the goal.
The U.S. team cut its deficit to 2-1 on a penalty kick by Brian Benedict in the 68th minute. After that, however, the Diplomats, buoyed by six substitutes, began to break through with increasing ease. Howard graduate Philip Gyau, who had entered at halftime, clinched the game with short goal on a breakaway in the 78th minute off an assist from fellow nonstarter Rob Ryerson, a Columbia native who graduated from Nevada-Las Vegas.