D.C. can't get goals they need in win
Despite win club still falls to Pachuca in aggregate goals
Despite the win D.C. United was unable to advance, losing to Pachuca on aggregate. (Andy Mead/YCJ)
United had their chances before Pachuca struck for a 76th-minute counterattack goal from substitute Damian Alvarez that made late D.C. tallies from Rod Dyachenko and Franco Niell inadequate.
The home side came out with an attacking mindset and a 3-5-2 formation that relegated left back Marc Burch to the bench as captain Jaime Moreno made his return to the starting XI. But the experience of the defending tournament champions won out as Pachuca absorbed early pressure and rode their luck as United saw two strong penalty appeals waved off by Salvadorian referee Joel Aguilar.
Pachuca probed United's left flank in the early going, perhaps looking for space vacated by Burch's absence, and in the eighth minute a quick interchange between Andres Chitiva and Marvin Cabrera released the Pachuca midfielder deep in the D.C. penalty box. But just when it seemed Cabrera would set up an easy finish for the visitors, Clyde Simms came flying in to deny him with a timely sliding block.
D.C. netminder Zach Wells came up with an important stop in the 17th minute that owed much to luck and good positioning, as Chitiva cut inside from the left to unleash a knuckling blast that a lunging Gabriel Caballero deflected with his head. But Wells had already begun to shuffle to his right and the redirection bounced off his body and away from danger.
United's Marcelo Gallardo drew a foul from his countryman Christian Gimenez to set up a promising set piece some 25 yards out from goal in the 24th minute, but he sent the ensuing shot right into the waiting arms of Pachuca goalkeeper Miguel Calero.
Barely three minutes later, another smart play from Gallardo released McTavish for a low right-wing cross that was attacked well by Emilio right in front of goal, but his side-footed finish somehow trickled wide of the far post with Calero watching helplessly.
But Pachuca were hardly bunkering in, as displayed by another slick passing exchange down Pachuca's right side in the 35th minute that began with Cabrera's cheeky "sombrero" over Fred and continued with Caballero passing to Chitiva, with D.C. requiring another late defensive intervention required to stop the danger.
United saw a seemingly iron-clad penalty appeal rejected just two minutes before halftime when Moreno took advantage of Julio Manzur's slip, taking possession and running at the retreating Pachuca defense before slotting a pass to Emilio on his left. The Brazilian had time and space to pick his spot but when he hesitated, Manzur came sliding in to scythe him down, only for Aguilar to wave play on as the crowd screamed its displeasure.
Quaranta set up Emilio with a half-decent look at goal in injury time, but his shot lacked the requisite power from the acute angle and Calero had it covered well, calmly gobbling up the effort to keep matters at 0-0 going into the break.
Pachuca brought on Alvarez for the second 45 minutes and the Argentinean began in a left wing role but as the half went on, floated throughout his team's attacking third as 'Los Tuzos' looked for the knockout blow that would put the series out of reach.
Chitiva seemed to have done so in the 50th minute when he ran onto Juan Carlos Cacho's well-slotted pass and rippled the net with his low finish, but the ball had actually skipped wide of the post by inches and United's hopes were kept alive. Then minutes later a Pachuca set piece saw defender Leobardo Lopez rose well to nod a strong header towards the top corner of the United net, but Wells threw himself to his left to palm the bid over the bar.
Another dubious Pachuca challenge in the penalty area caused controversy 10 minutes into the second stanza when Gallardo's pass sent Fred in behind the defense, but again Aguilar was unmoved when the Brazilian went to ground with Lopez's hands all over him.
Looking for fresh legs and improved service from the left, Soehn threw Marc Burch into the fray in place of Quaranta near the hour mark. The left-footer soon made an impact as he swerved a great cross into the danger area for Emilio, whose downward header drew a strong reflex save from Calero.
Soon after, McTavish made way for Niell as Soehn threw caution to the wind, putting almost every member of his strike force into action. But despite D.C.'s desperate pressure, Pachuca were still looking dangerous on the counterattack and second-half sub Alvarez found himself on the end of two such opportunities, but wasted both chances with shots hit well over Wells' crossbar.
Soon after, Pachuca were unable to clear their lines after Burch's cross was blocked, and Simms picked up the loose ball and set up Moreno, who saw his goalbound effort deflected over the top of goal.
United were constantly probing the Pachuca defense now, with the visitors dropping deeper and deeper as time wound on. But the final touch was lacking and the Black-and-Red were soon caught out with a sucker-punch goal that effectively suffocated their flagging hopes.
With the home side fully committed to the attack, Pachuca found a quick outlet and once again Gimenez and Alvarez led the break, with Alvarez floating into space on the left side and receiving a pass that allowed him to advance on an exposed Wells and clip a low right-footer under the big D.C. 'keeper for a 1-0 game lead and 3-0 advantage on aggregate.
Soehn soon used his last substitution of the match to remove the tiring Moreno and give Dyachenko a runout, while Pachuca coach Enrique Meza, surely eyeing next week's domestic fixtures, gave his playmaker Gimenez a rest as well.
Sensing progression to another Champions' Cup final, Pachuca began to pass the ball around as their expatriate fans shouted 'ole' with each touch, but United gave the home faithful something to cheer about when Fred burst loose down the right channel and cut back an endline cross for Dyachenko, who smacked his first goal of the season into the upper corner from eight yards out in the 84th minute.
It seemed like a mere consolation for the MLS side, but then they struck again in the final moments of regulation time to send the match crackling back into life. Gonzalo Peralta stepped forward to intercept a pass and lofted a classy pass into the path of Fred's run down the left side, and the Brazilian laid off an inviting ball for Niell, who stroked a calm finish into the far side of the net to give United a 2-1 lead and cut the aggregate score to 3-2.
But the revival was short-lived, as Pachuca defended D.C.'s late flurry of high balls into the box and killed off the remaining minutes to escape RFK with the goal they needed. "Los Tuzos" will advance to the Champions' Cup final and defend their trophy against the winner of the other semifinal between the Houston Dynamo and Costa Rica's Deportivo Saprissa.
Charles Boehm is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.