By Ridge Mahoney
Facing Central American opposition on the road, be it World Cup qualifying or
club competition, is pocked with pitfalls, as both D.C. United and Houston found
out in the first legs of the CONCACAF Champions Cup quarterfinals Wednesday.
D.C. won and Houston lost as both teams showed considerable grit and spirit
despite having trained for less than a month. D.C. had far too much firepower
for its opponents; Houston just didn't have enough luck.
United simply outclassed Honduran club Olimpia, 4-1, with the grace and guile of
Argentine Christian Gomez accounting for a pair of goals and one each
going to defender Facundo Erpen and former Olimpia striker Luciano
Gomez scored a superb goal in each half, and for his second goal - just 10
minutes after he needed to be helped off the field after taking a vicious kick
to the knee - he curled a 20-yarder a whisker inside the base of the post to
make the score, 3-1. Olimpia had threatened several times early in the second
half to tie the game, but Gomez's masterpiece effectively throttled that threat.
Those regional bugaboos of bumpy fields, bad bounces, and zealous officiating
plagued the Dynamo, which fell, 1-0, to Puntarenas of Costa Rica. Not until the
second minute of stoppage time did the Costa Ricans score against the Dynamo,
which was reduced to 10 men in the 72nd minute when defender Eddie Robinson
received his second yellow card apparently for lying on the ground too long,
bleeding from the lip, after being caught in a collision with his goalkeeper
Zach Wells and a Puntarenas attacker.
Also dismissed was enraged team trainer Bruce Morgan, who - like everyone
on the Houston bench - had been ducking objects thrown from the stands as the
fans protested Robinson's slow recovery.
Morgan had tried to enter the field to treat Alejandro Moreno, and argued
with the fourth official and referee German Arrendondo, who apparently
believed Morgan was trying to waste time. Morgan also kicked the Red Cross
stretcher in frustration.
Wells had replaced starter Pat Onstad midway through the first half,
after Onstad suffered an ankle injury while Roberto Wong fouled him in
the process of scoring a disallowed goal. Wells stepped in admirably, saving a
Kurt Bernard penalty with a full-length stretch and denying Jorge
Barboza in the final minutes with another spectacular block.
But Wells had no chance when Bernard cut inside Moreno at the edge of the
penalty area as Puntarenas launched a final, desperate attack. Bernard's rather
weak left-footed shot deflected off the right foot of a lunging Ricardo Clark,
and veered to the open side of the goal.
The second legs of both series are a week from Thursday. United hosts Olimpia at
RFK, the Dynamo will play Puntarenas at the Aggie Soccer Complex in College
Station, Texas. The series are decided on total goals and if the teams are tied
at the end of regulation of the second leg, extra time will be played, to be
followed by penalty kicks if necessary. There is no special provision for away
In the semifinals, United plays the winner of the Western Connection FC (TRI)-CD
Guadalajara (MEX) series, which Western Connection leads, 2-1, going into next
week's second leg in Guadalajara. The Puntarenas-Houston winner takes on either
Mexican club Pachuca or Deportivo Marquense of Guatemala, which open their
series in Pachuca Thursday.