The talent gap between MLS and American soccer's top minor league circuit is not as pronounced as one would think, so when D.C. United found itself tied with the Richmond Kickers late in a U.S. Open Cup match Wednesday night, the possibility of a fourth-round upset was very much alive.
United, however, was able to regroup in time, getting two goals from substitute Christian Gomez in the final 14 minutes to subdue the Kickers, 3-1, in front of 8,412 spectators at University of Richmond Stadium -- a turnout more than three times larger than the minor league club's season average.
United, which lost to Richmond at this stage of the 91-year-old tournament last year, will host an MLS team, Dallas, in an Aug. 24 quarterfinal at Maryland SoccerPlex in Germantown. Dallas advanced by beating Columbus, 3-1, in overtime. The tournament is open to all affiliated amateur and professional teams in the United States and is modeled after domestic cup competitions in Europe and South America.
"I'm just glad to get out of here with a win," said midfielder Dema Kovalenko, who drew a penalty kick in the 76th minute that led to Gomez's tiebreaking goal. "I think it's easier to play with MLS teams than play with these teams because of their desire and how they play. They're looking for that one chance. It would be nice to go out and put them away after 20 minutes, but it's never going to be like that."
United took a 1-0 lead in the 26th minute on teenager Freddy Adu's 22-yard rocket and seemed on the verge of breaking open the feisty match, but the club's inability to find a second goal allowed the Kickers to remain in the hunt.
The equalizer came in the 68th minute when McColm Cephas ripped an angled shot past goalkeeper Troy Perkins. If not for Perkins's leaping save on Tim Brown's long bid two minutes later, United would've found itself trailing on the road in front of a boisterous crowd.
But Kovalenko was raked across both legs by defender Tony Williams just inside the box, setting up Gomez's first strike. Five minutes later, the unmarked Gomez awaited Adu's skipping cross and directed the bouncing ball into the far corner.
With a league game scheduled for Saturday in Chicago, Coach Peter Nowak kept Gomez and Ben Olsen on the bench until the start of the second half. Perkins played the entire game in place of regular starter Nick Rimando. Despite the presence of most of United's regulars, it turned into an anxious night for a presumably superior MLS team.
While New York/New Jersey and Colorado were upset by Rochester and Minnesota, respectively, on Tuesday night, D.C. was able to stay alive in a tournament that dangles a $100,000 first prize.
"There were moments where we put ourselves into a bad spot, into bad position, and we had to chase the game," Nowak said. "We made some unnecessary errors, which we've made in a couple games lately, and if we can eliminate that, we'll be pretty competitive."
United Note: Forward Alecko Eskandarian, who has missed six weeks because of a concussion, won't be able to resume training for at least two more weeks, team officials said.