When Guadalajara needed one of its attacking stars to step up, Ramon Morales did. When D.C. United needed someone to do something in the offensive third, nobody came through. Morales nailed a golazo in the 64th minute at Jalisco Stadium Tuesday night, stepping into a loose ball rolling along the penalty arc and drilling it high past keeper Troy Perkins. Thus Guadalajara won the Copa Sudamericana second leg, 1-0, and the series on away goals (1-0) with the teams deadlocked 2-2 on aggregate.
Coach Jose Manuel de la Torre had been fired by Guadalajara after the first leg and his former assistant, Efrain Flores, won his debut last weekend in the Mexican league, 3-1, against Veracruz. Guadalajara started the match knowing Sergio Santana's goal at RFK gave it the away-goals edge, and swept forward in search of an early score.
United - lacking the suspended Marc Burch and the injured Fred - dug in determinedly and waited for chances, which they got despite a lackluster showing by Jaime Moreno, who three times stumbled over the ball and lost possession in his own half of the field. One stumble gifted the ballto Gonzalo Pineda, who dragged his shot wide.
Clyde Simms and Ben Olsen chased, pressured and harassed Guadalajara in midfield, and a back line of Devon McTavish, Bobby Boswell, Greg Vanney and Bryan Namoff repelled dozens of crosses and centering balls. Yet few of their clearances and interceptions turned into meaningful possessions, as forward Luciano Emilio worked futilely in search of service and Christian Gomez labored to break through. In the first half, Gomez fired a free kick that Guadalajara keeper Luis Michel parried and McTavish launched a bouncing drive the Mexican keeper bobbled but managed to cover.
Guadalajara dominated possession but seldom produced a clear look at goal. Simms thwarted Alberto Medina from point-blank range and Santana fired high from the right side.
Guadalajara turned up the pressure at the start of the second half. Namoff deflected a header from Sergio Avila after Medina had found space on the right to hit a dangerous cross but the flank pressure continued and eventually produced the goal when a scrambing United defense just couldn't clear the ball.
Simms, McTavish and Olsen all got a piece of the ball as it came over from the right flank, was deflected and eventually squirted in front of goal. Olsen and Avila jabbed it loose and Avila dove out of the way as Morales hammered it high into the net past a flying Perkins.
In terms of MLS, United has decent depth, but against a team like Guadalajara, its courageous but limited attacking substitutes, Rod Dyachenko and Stephen DeRoux, brought plenty of energy but not enough guile. Brian Carroll replaced Moreno early in the second half as Coach Tom Soehn tried to add fresh legs to a fatiguing defensive effort and in the final minutes United did carve open opportunities to win the series.
Emilio burst into the penalty area but fired his shot high. Gomez scraped the ball away from an opponent with a clear lane to goal, but his weak right-footed shot wouldn't have bothered Michel had it been on target. With less than two minutes left a cross cleared the melee in front of goal and ran for Olsen to belt a shot hard but right at Michel, who flailed it over the crossbar.
A scuffle broke out in the final minute after a wayward DeRoux forearm had felled an opponent. The crowd of about 50,000 scarcely paused in its celebrations to whistle the delay and prompt referee Samuel Haro to end the match, which he did soon enough to send Guadalajara into the quarterfinals against Argentine club Arsenal.
The United players return chafing under a defeat narrower than the 3-2 aggregate defeat six months ago in the CONCACAF Champions' Cup.
The narrower is the defeat, the bitterer is the taste.