D.C. United certainly had itself to blame for last night's penalty kick loss to FC Dallas in the U.S. Open Cup quarterfinals at Maryland SoccerPlex in Germantown. A late-game meltdown led to Dallas's last-minute goal that tied the match 1-1 and forced overtime and, eventually, the excruciating tiebreaker.
But United also couldn't restrain its fury about referee Abiodun Okulaja, who ejected Dema Kovalenko late in regulation, leaving D.C. short-handed for 48 minutes overall, and made other disputed rulings.
Coach Peter Nowak declined to speak to reporters, but Kovalenko had plenty to say.
"Horrendous, horrendous refereeing," said Kovalenko, whose dismissal was the result of yellow cards in the 53rd and 72nd minutes. "I don't care if I get fined or whatever. It's unacceptable and right now it's got to get better. Not just for our team, but for everybody. Terrible calls both ways."
United seemed as if it were going to survive on the strength of Christian Gomez's goal early in the second half and advance to the semifinals of the 91-year-old tournament for third time in five years. But the match took a dramatic turn during second-half injury time.
Brian Carroll should have sealed the outcome when he welcomed Freddy Adu's cross after Adu made a long run and pushed the ball between Greg Vanney's legs before finding his unmarked teammate. Carroll had only goalkeeper Scott Garlick to beat but sent the shot wide, handing a lifeline to desperate Dallas.
With about 30 seconds remaining, Carlos Ruiz, MLS's most lethal scorer the last few years, made a powerful run through United's defense and slotted a shot past Troy Perkins to force overtime.
Short-handed and with few attacking players still in the game, United's only hope was to extend the match to penalty kicks. D.C. accomplished that, but in the tiebreaker, Dallas converted all four opportunities while United missed two of three -- John Wilson shooting wide and Garlick stopping Josh Gros's attempt.
"The way we manage the game has to be better," midfielder Ben Olsen said. "Those were some hard lessons -- hard ones to swallow. When you do something wrong at this level, all of a sudden you're in overtime and facing PKs down a man. Some of the decisions we made were not good; it's that simple."
The loss spoiled the debut of Argentine defender Facundo Erpen, who started on the right side and played extremely well. He will likely start again Saturday when United resumes league play at first-place New England.
Dallas, winless in its last seven league matches, will play the MLS's Chicago Fire -- a penalty kick winner over minor league Rochester (N.Y.) -- in next month's semifinals.
United Notes: Dallas lost defender David Wagenfuhr in the 30th minute with a possible broken jaw when he was kicked in the face by Jamil Walker, who received a yellow card. Wagenfuhr was taken to a hospital for X-rays. . . . D.C. forward Jaime Moreno said he will test his sprained foot -- an injury suffered during the MLS select team's 5-0 loss at Real Madrid on Tuesday -- today to determine his availability for the New England match. He said his chances of playing are "probably 50-50."