The Johns Hopkins Hospital X-ray tech ran his heart out on the right wing. The former USL player and current ODP coach scored a wonder goal. The 30-year-old A/V equipment sales manager, older than most of the players on either side, nailed down central defense.
And fans of Daniel Baxter (X-rays), Mamadou Kansaye (ODP), Josh Taylor (A/V) and the rest of Baltimore amateur club Christos FC flocked to the Maryland SoccerPlex, some arriving early and some not making it through the long lines until late in the first half, when the only spaces for spectators were standing room along the concourses and in the bushes.
In the end, the amateurs put a good scare into D.C. United on Tuesday night, taking an early 1-0 lead and remaining tied through the 80th minute, but were unable to match Dallas Roma FC (2006) and Cal FC (2012) as regional amateur clubs who have knocked off an MLS side in US Open Cup play. Lloyd Sam and Julian Buescher combined for three goals as United rallied to win 4-1.
“I thought it was pretty good up until the last 10 minutes,” said Christos FC co-coach and master of understatement Brian Bugarin.
The MLS side, starting a mix of regulars and reserves, pressed early on a sweltering night at the Plex, surely hoping their fitness would overwhelm a team that rarely trains. Sebastien Le Toux, the Modern Era’s all-time leading scorer, had two chances in the first three minutes.
But Christos, despite sitting back a bit, quickly equalized the shot count. Kaoru Forbess, a former indoor soccer pro and now a loan officer, had a well-placed header off a corner kick that forced United keeper Travis Worra to leap and punch it over.
“We didn’t get it in the first half,” said United coach Ben Olsen. “A few guys were off the pace for one reason or the other.”
Halfway through the first half, Christos unleased a dazzling series of passes on the right win, with Baxter heavily involved. It ended with a clattering in the arc and some testy face-to-face conversations.
Then Kansaye, a left back/midfielder from Mali who played for N.C. State, Maryland-Baltimore County and the Charlotte Independence (USL), calmly hit a dipping free kick over the seven-man wall and outside Worra’s grasp. The Christos-leaning crowd was thrilled.
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“It was good team play for us to get the ball up there,” Kansaye said. “I just saw an open shot. Thank the Lord, it went in.”
United stepped up the attack. Le Toux shot wide again. Another shot was deflected, forcing former Icelandic pro keeper Phil Saunders to punch it over, to the delight of some vocal fans in the crowd.
The class of Julian Buescher finally shone through for United. The German midfielder shrugged off a terrible giveaway and came back on the next possession with some deft close-quarters dribbling at the top of the box and finished cleanly to the far post for the equalizer in the 35th minute.
Christos had another good flurry late in the half, but then the pace of the game started to take a toll. Leading scorer Pete Caringi III, son of Maryland-Baltimore County coach Pete Caringi Jr., left the game in the first half. Kansaye cramped several times, once limping back on the field after getting permission to re-enter.
United piled on the pressure and brought in quality players off the bench. Ian Harkes entered the fray and had a steadying influence in midfield. Lloyd Sam brought fresh legs to the attack. Buescher remained the danger man, firing off a couple of blocked shots and incisive passes.
Christos managed one strong counterattack in the 69th minute, spraying the ball wide to 30-year-old fitness specialist Brian Graham. The winger played it into pesky attacker and sales representative Elton Joe, who collided with Worra. While Worra stayed down, United defender Jalen Robinson got a yellow card for shoving Joe, and Christos’ Levi Houapeu saw yellow as one of several Christos players to run to their teammate’s defense.
That play started the best spell for Christos in the second half, but after 80 minutes of challenging every United attacker, Christos finally lapsed on defense. Sam took advantage, sliding through the defense and finishing for the 2-1 lead.
Christos used its last sub to bring on Baltimore Celtic youth Geaton Caltabiano for the ailing Kansaye and putting him up front. United countered by bringing Ike Opare into the defense, replacing Bobby Boswell after the veteran went down.
But Sam set up Buescher for a clinching goal late. They pressed hard for a fourth goal in the 90th minute and had several shots blocked by Saunders and determined Christos defenders.
After Christos pressed at the other end, United countered, and Buescher dinked the ball back for Harkes to score a fourth. The announced four minutes of stoppage time weren’t over, but the referee halted proceedings at that point, like a UFC ref declaring a TKO.
For D.C. United, they have been competing in the Open Cup since winning it in the club’s inaugural season in 1996. In 49 games, United has only hit the four-goal mark one other time, and that came in a Second Round match against the Charleston Battery in 2000.
Christos players, though, took a lap of honor, saluting fans in all corners of the crowd of 5,286. That announced attendance was, by far, the biggest crowd to witness a US Open Cup game at that venue.
“Baltimore is such a big soccer town, but you rarely get anyone out on a Sunday afternoon. We hosted a national tournament and had 4-500 people, maybe,” Bugarin said.
Olsen didn’t mind that many of the fans in an alleged United home game were cheering for the underdog.
“Nah, it was great out there,” Olsen said with a relieved smile. “And I think the guys prefer it over playing some out-of-town team. Great supporters bring life.”
The final stats were predictably lopsided. United outshot Christos 30-7 and outpassed Christos 556-194, according to Opta.
But one stat stood out: Officially, Christos blocked nine shots.
“That’s Baltimore,” said Cody Albrecht, a defender and former D.C. United Academy player who has to be back at work at Northrop Grumman at 7:30 a.m. “We go hard for each other. Blocking shots, making tackles, doing the extra plays — that’s what make Baltimore teams Baltimore teams. I think that’s why we stayed in the game so long.”
Olsen was suitably impressed.
“I’m assuming as we grow as a soccer country that this is going to happen more and more. Better quality amateurs who can make this type of run. That’s what great about the Open Cup.”