RICHMOND–A more rested and healthier D.C. United absorbed and endured a stubborn Richmond Kickers team, and in particular, a fountain-of-youth-like performance from goalkeeper Ronnie Pascale, outlasting the USL PRO side 2-1 in extra time of the third round U.S. Open Cup match.
“They made it tough,” said United coach Ben Olsen. “Any team that wants to sit back and counter like that, it’s not easy to break it down. It takes a full game of focus, and not to get too caught up and be patient and know that if you play the right way, eventually you’ll get the win.”
United was patient enough, but had trouble breaking through a patchwork Kickers defensive unit.
And when they did break through, they had to contend with Pascale.
“He did well,” Olsen said. “He’s been here forever. He’s been having great games against us since I remember. We’ve played Richmond like 10 times over the years. He’s a legend here and he had a great game tonight.”
Pascale stymied a persistent United side on numerous occasions, making seven saves, several of the diving, fingertip variety, but he didn’t have an answer for Marcelo Saragosa’s goal in the 107th minute.
And the Kickers, out of gas and healthy bodies, didn’t have an answer for that.
“It was one of the best games he’s ever played, I thought,” said Kickers coach Leigh Cowlishaw. “He had some fantastic saves on the night. He should save that for the weekend as well.”
Pascale said it was one of those games where he seemed to be able to put himself in the right spot at the right time.
“Personally, it was one of the better games I’ve played,” Pascale said. “There have been a lot of games, but this is definitely one that is going to stand out, especially this year being my last year, and now, the last chance to play an MLS team, and being D.C.”
The win for United means they’ll face Philadelphia Union next Tuesday in a fourth round matchup at the Maryland Soccerplex. Union and United survived the third round, while seven MLS teams did not.
“It was a classic Cup tie,” Cowlishaw said. “We did very well, gave them a lot of scares and had a lot of chances.”
The Kickers, with just 13 healthy bodies due to injuries to central defenders William Yomby and Henry Kalungi–away with the Ugandan national team–as well as to midfielder Michael Callahan, were forced to alter their lineup, starting forward Jason Yeisley as a center back and midfielder Bobby Foglesong as right back. United, meanwhile, did not have former Kicker Dwayne DeRosario and and Dejan Jakovic due to callups to the Canadian national team.
“I’m just really proud of their hunger and their desire,” Cowlishaw said. “This was just a shame. This was perhaps the worst result because we went to overtime, and the big one for us is Friday [against Harrisburg], so we’ve got to try and recover physically as well as mentally.
Cowlishaw described it as a nightmare scenario.
The injuries, combined with two league matches Friday and Saturday, put the Kickers in the inevitable position of having to sit back, absorb United’s best, and try to strike on the counter attack.
“Pretty much that’s what it looks like every year in the Open Cup early rounds,” Olsen said. “And you just have to survive. I’m sure there’ll be some losses for some MLS teams. It always happens, but I always tell the guys, ‘Expect the unexpected in these games, and you’re going to have to gut it out.’ It never comes easy in these games.”
That plan changed a bit when United struck first in the 24th minute from in-form Hamdi Salihi. Maicon Santos, from midfield, found Salihi streaking toward goal, and Salihi finished past Pascale to give the visitors a 1-0 lead.
Almost immediately, the Kickers began to show some attacking flair, and in the waning moments of the first half, were rewarded with a dubious penalty after former Real Salt Lake forward Chris Agorosor went down with minimal contact from Saragosa in the box. Stanley Nyazamba converted the penalty to tie the match going into the half.
“It was disappointing because it wasn’t a PK,” Olsen said. “It just wasn’t a PK. It happens. It’s part of these games–the intrigue of them, the chaos of them because the refereeing isn’t always the best. It’s not a knock on the refs; it’s just the reality. It just adds to the games not being very easy.”
Cowlishaw said getting the call was important to keep the team in the match, but acknowledged that it was a generous call.
“To be fair, the first [penalty] might have been a little bit soft anyway,” Cowlishaw said.
“It was huge because we were trying to keep the game as short as possible,” Cowlishaw said. “We didn’t come out very strongly, actually, but I wanted to go for it in regulation because the overtime was no good to us.”
The second half began much like the first, with the Kickers sitting back and trying to weather United’s pressure, content to let the visitors pass the ball around.
However, Ryan Heins had a great chance to put the home side ahead, but his effort off a quick Kickers counterattack went inches wide left of Joe Willis’s goal.
When the makeshift Kickers defense bent, Pascale was there to bail them out. Twice in the 60th minute, Pascale made point-blank saves, and a third United attempt from that sequence went just wide.
Without a deep bench, the Kickers pushed for a second goal late in regulation, bringing in slightly injured forward Matthew Delicate and forward David Bulow to replace the lively Edson Elcock and Nyazamba.
“Right at the end, I thought we were going to sneak it in regulation,” Cowlishaw said. “We had a couple of really good looks to try and just squeeze out of there, which would have been perfect.”
In the 78th minute, the spry Andy Najar ripped a laser from 20 yards that had Pasacle saving at full stretch to his left. Najar tested Pascale again in the 86th minute, but the 35-year old goalkeeper was up to the task.
Neither team had anything to offer in the four minutes of second half stoppage time, forcing an extra 30 minutes of overtime.
Cowlishaw said at that point, he was hoping to ride out the overtime and turn to Pascale to save the Kickers in penalties.
“We were just walking wounded by then,” Cowlishaw said.
Second half United substitute Nick DeLeon had an early chance snuffed out by a left middle-fingertip save that pushed the shot just inches wide of the right post.
The first 15 minutes had the 5,014 Kickers fans in attendance at Richmond City Stadium nervously confident that the home side could get to penalties and knock off yet another MLS team, as it did twice in last season’s U.S. Open Cup run to the semifinals.
However, Saragosa made sure that wouldn’t be the case, as he slammed home an eight-yard shot from a Branko Boskovic corner in the 107th minute.
“I’m happy to score and get a chance to step onto the next level,” Saragosa said. “It was hard for us because we scored and then [Richmond] was fighting hard to get another [goal], but everybody helped each other and I think it’s a great win.”
Said Pascale of the play: “Unfortunately it was just one of those weird set pieces where a couple of people fell into each other and the ball fell right to the guy’s foot eight yards out,” Pascale said. “Credit to him, he finished it well.”
Boskovic said the corner was “nothing special.”
“I just put the ball in the box and we scored,” Boskovic said. “We had a lot of corner kicks and free kicks, but this team [Richmond Kickers] was also good on set pieces.”
The Kickers made one last gasp effort, with Gerson dos Santos heading a corner by Sascha Goerres inches wide of goal.
Olsen said United “made a meal” out of the game, but was pleased that he was able to give minutes to players not seeing as much, singling out the play of Ethan White and Lewis Neal, playing his first-ever game at left back, and said Saragosa got better as the match went along, and was justly rewarded with his match-winner.
“Gut checks sometimes are not the end of the world,” Olsen said.
The Kickers are now left to get what little rest they can before they play two games in two days this weekend–Friday at Harrisburg, who will be confident after knocking off New England in penalties, and Saturday at Rochester, in the first matchup since former Kickers assistant Jesse Myers took the top job with the Rhinos.
“The guys really came together and fought for each other,” Pascale said. “We really enjoyed fighting for each other and working for each other, just making it diffiicult for them, and we created a couple of good chances too. I thought it was a good game, kind of back and forth. Probably, at the end of the day, they deserved to win, but I was hoping for PKs.”
DC United 2:1 Richmond Kickers University of Richmond Stadium – Richmond, VA
Lineups Kickers: GK Ronnie Pascale, Shane Johnson, Gerson Dos Santos, Luke Vercollone, Sascha Görres, Edson Elcock (Matthew Delicate – 77’), Ryan Heins (Nozomi Hiroyama – 87’), Bobby Foglesong, Stanley Nyazamba (David Bulow – 77’), Jason Yeisley, Christopher Agorsor
United: GK Joe Willis, Ethan White, Emiliano Dudar, Chris Korb (Perry Kitchen – 104’), Marcelo Saragosa, Andy Najar, Stephen King (Branko Boskovic – 75’) Lewis Neal, Hamdi Salihi (Nick DeLeon – 45’), Josh Wolff, Maicon Santos
111th minute: Perry Kitchen (D.C. United)
Referee: Kai Goodrich
Assistant Referees: Robert Velbis, Mark Gorak
Fourth Official: Matthew Franz
Weather: Sunny, 90º