On a perfect spring evening for soccer at Audi Field in Washington, D.C., D.C. United manager Wayne Rooney gambled he could get by the Richmond Kickers in the Fourth Round of the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup with a squad composed primarily of the very young (five starters couldn’t legally buy a beer) and those playing themselves back into shape after layoffs. Their opponent was was the Richmond Kickers, a highly-motivated USL League One side led by their Argentine goal scoring talisman Emiliano Terzaghi, who has delighted Kickers fans with 48 goals over 82 appearances. Rooney’s gamble paid off as D.C. was able to sneak by their frequent US Open Cup rivals to the south 1-0 on a second half penalty kick.
It was the seventh all-time meeting in US Open Cup play, the second most common matchup in the tournament’s Modern Era (1995-present). It was their first meeting since 2013.
The first half was slow to take shape. United struggled to make meaningful progress going forward and had some dicey moments trying to play out of the back. The Kickers had the better chances most of the half with Matthew Bentley on the right flank combining with Terzaghi. Terzaghi had a clear chance midway through the half unmarked about twelve yards from the goal but D.C. keeper Alex Bono, in his first start of the season, anticipated the shot and saved the attempt.
In the later stages of the first half United made some credible efforts at opening the scoring. Recently-reacquired midfielder Emil Asad almost pulled off an “Olimpico” in the 34th minute, grazing the crossbar directly off a corner kick. Running up top for D.C., Kristian Fletcher and Ted Ku-DiPietro worked hard but had no good looks at goal.
Alex Bono is HIM. pic.twitter.com/wAHIxAUpVI— D.C. United (@dcunited) April 27, 2023
Andy Najar was a consistent bright spot for D.C. throughout the evening. Najar steadied an inexperienced, and sometimes nervous, United back line, was the most consistent and effective player moving the ball out of D.C.’s defensive third and was dangerous going forward. United assistant coach Pete Shuttleworth praised Najar performance, his first game back after injury.
“It was good to get Andy back in. I think he tired a bit at the end, which was natural,” said Shuttleworth. “You saw his ability when he got on the ball. He’s a phenomenal talent.”
United’s Lewis O’Brien, recently acquired from Nottingham Forest in the English Premier League, replaced Ruan at halftime and lifted the largely inexperienced D.C. squad. O’Brien supplied much needed vision and direction. O’Brien’s entry really changed the tenor of the game.
Najar’s creativity and energy were rewarded in the 51st minute when a darting run into the box resulted in his being fouled and referee JC Griggs pointing to the penalty spot. Asad stepped up and converted the spot kick, slotting the ball to Kickers’ keeper Akira Fitzgerald’s right.
Richmond coach Darren Sawatzky tried to inject energy into his squad, making four substitutions by the 70th minute. Richmond had sustained periods of pressure and were rewarded with a penalty because of a clumsy challenge by D.C. centerback Hayden Sargis on Kharlton Belmar. Terzaghi’s attempt was only slightly off-center and at a good height for Bono. To the the dismay of the roughly 150 Kickers fans who made the trip north, and were noisy and boisterous throughout the match, Bono made a relatively easy stop diving to his left.
Cool as you like ???? pic.twitter.com/mIdL1zuUCL— D.C. United (@dcunited) April 27, 2023
There were a couple nervy moments left in the match, but Bono was not called on for any more heroics. Rooney’s gamble paid off. He rested his starters. and the three-time Open Cup champions survive the opening round of the competition for the fourth year in a row. The Kickers have a lot of positives to take away from the match. They played evenly with a club two divisions above them and were unlucky not to get to extra time.
“At the end of the day I felt we did enough to win the game tonight,” said Sawatzky. “I feel for the guys because it was a great performance, but it’s an MLS club – they took the three points.”