D.C. United wasn't exactly thrilled about playing in today's consolation match of the CONCACAF Champions Cup, but who could blame the club?
Its title hopes were dashed Friday night. Its Major League Soccer schedule resumes Wednesday. The difference in prize money between third and fourth place was a few hundred dollars per player. At kickoff for its fourth game in nine days, the desert temperature had reached 101.
With little at stake, defending champion United relinquished a two-goal lead in the final 20 minutes and tied the Chicago Fire, 2-2, at Sam Boyd Stadium.
"We're disappointed with the way things worked out in this tournament," D.C. Coach Thomas Rongen said, "but there's no time to dwell on it. The MLS Cup is our focus now. We can do some very special things."
In the final, Sergio Vazquez broke a tie in the 66th minute as Mexican power Necaxa defeated Alajuela of Costa Rica, 2-1, to earn a berth in the inaugural world club championships early next year in Brazil. Alajuela went ahead in the 35th minute on Josef Miso's penalty kick, but tournament MVP Alex Aguinaga tied it with a spectacular scissors kick early in the second half.
Necaxa was shorthanded the final 34 minutes after German Villa's ejection, but goalkeeper Hugo Pineda stopped a penalty kick and made two other excellent saves. The game, played before 9,763, was marred by fans throwing plastic water bottles onto the field and by several hundred spectators charging onto the field to celebrate.
"To me, it's an embarrassment," CONCACAF President Jack Warner said. "Security was inadequate."
Rongen had promised several personnel changes today, and made even more than anticipated.
The only starting holdover from the 3-1 semifinal loss to Necaxa was defender Carey Talley, while mainstays Roy Lassiter (calf injury), Marco Etcheverry, Jaime Moreno, Eddie Pope, Jeff Agoos and Diego Sonora watched from the stands.
Among the replacements were defenders Curt Onalfo (no previous D.C. starts) and Judah Cooks (two), and midfielder Mike Slivinski (one). Chicago kept only three starters: defender C.J. Brown and midfielders Chris Armas and Jerzy Podbrozny.
"There wasn't a lot at stake, but there was a sense of pride among the reserves that we're the best group in the league," forward A.J. Wood said. "Up 2-0, you should win it."
United needed only 82 seconds to take the lead as Wood settled Chris Albright's cross from the right side and easily beat goalkeeper Greg Sutton from six yards.
After two more United threats, the Fire controlled the remainder of the half but was unable to score. Goalkeeper Mark Simpson was fortunate on a couple of misplaced shots, then robbed Frank Klopas with an arm save on a 44th-minute header.
United increased the lead five minutes into the second half on a bizarre play in front of the Chicago net. Ben Olsen, who had replaced Wood (back injury) at halftime, lifted a short cross that the Fire's Paul Dougherty chested back to Sutton a few feet away. But Dougherty's momentum took him into Sutton, who fumbled the ball and allowed United rookie Antonio Otero to knock it into an open net.
Ante Razov, the Fire's leading scorer who entered midway through the second half, made it 2-1 with a 22-yard free kick to the upper left corner in the 71st minute. Nine minutes later, Jesse Marsch evened things with a clear, angled shot from six yards.
"We played very well for the first 20 or 25 minutes," Rongen said, "and then we really stopped playing and competing. We allowed this team back in the game. We've got to learn to finish these games off."
United Notes: Rookie forward David Hayes underwent arthroscopic surgery on his right knee Friday at Fair Oaks Hospital in Fairfax and will be sidelined two to three weeks.