Rookie midfielder Miguel Aguilar scored his first professional goal Wednesday night, an 85th-minute finish set up by Michael Farfan’s back-heel pass, as D.C. United opened the 2015-16 CONCACAF Champions League with a 1-0 victory over Arabe Unido in Panama City.
With most of the regulars back in Washington, Aguilar was among several reserves starting in the Group H opener against the Panamanian club at Maracana Stadium. He had appeared in 17 of 26 MLS games and made four starts.
In what was considered the most difficult of the four group matches — on the road against a team that won its first game — United took hold of the group ahead of two consecutive home games: next Tuesday against Montego Bay (Jamaica) and Sept. 22 against the Panamanian side at RFK Stadium. Two weeks ago, Arabe Unido defeated visiting Montego Bay, 3-0.
The group winner will advance to the quarterfinals of the tournament, which features clubs from North and Central America and the Caribbean.
With home matches Saturday and next Tuesday, many United regulars remained in Washington. The lineup included just two players — defender Steve Birnbaum and midfielder Markus Halsti — who started the previous match, last Thursday against New York City FC at Yankee Stadium.
Goalkeeper Bill Hamid, defenders Bobby Boswell and Sean Franklin, midfielders Perry Kitchen, Davy Arnaud, Nick DeLeon and Chris Rolfe and forward Alvaro Saborio did not travel. Defender Taylor Kemp was in the delegation but did not play. Forward Fabian Espindola is recovering from a minor knee injury and defender Chris Korb is lost for the season with an ACL tear suffered last week.
Coach Ben Olsen also skipped the trip; he had to serve a one-game suspension for an ejection from United’s final game of the 2014-15 competition in March.
“Getting this result puts us in a good position,” assistant coach Chad Ashton said. “But we still have three games to play. We know the job isn’t done. We have a lot further to go with this competition, and you can’t take anything for granted.”
Andrew Dykstra, the second-choice goalkeeper, made three quality saves in the first half. The backline included rookie Luke Mishu and second-year pro Jalen Robinson. Midfielders Aguilar, Jared Jeffrey and Facundo Coria made rare starts and Jairo Arrieta was the lone forward.
United created two decent opportunities in the first half, but Arrieta’s 12-yard header missed high and Chris Pontius’s shot from the top of the penalty area was not as clever as his cutback, allowing for a simple save.
Farfan, working his way back into form after a long layoff, entered early in the second half and Pontius, three games into his injury comeback, gave way to Conor Doyle in the 63rd minute.
Dykstra came under late pressure, watching Abdiel Arroyo miss the near corner from 10 yards and Edgar Barcenas fail to make contact on a cross skimming through the six-yard box.
United would have been content with a draw — and a valuable away point — but Coria connected with Farfan, whose spectacular pass found Aguilar at the top of the penalty area.
Atop the Eastern Conference and overall point race, United will return to league play Saturday night against the visiting San Jose Earthquakes.
Goal DC United – No.17 @Maaguilar17 – Árabe Unido 0-1 DC United #SCCL #TheChampions @ArabeUnido_ @dcunited http://t.co/CItYfDsAXK— THE CHAMPIONS (@TheChampions) August 20, 2015
Full match highlights:
Dykstra; Robinson, Opare, Birnbaum (Farfan 52nd), Mishu; Aguilar, Jeffrey, Halsti, Coria (Martin 86th), Pontius (Doyle 63rd); Arrieta.