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D.C. United and Houston get serious
by Ridge Mahoney, March 13th, 2008 6:45AM

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For two MLS clubs, the preseason preparations include official competition. D.C. United and Houston not only came away from their away legs of their Concacaf Champions' Cup quarterfinals with ties, both teams also glimpsed a preview of what they may encounter as the season unfolds.

Jaime Moreno hobbled off injured in the 14th minute of United's 1-1 deadlock in Kingston with Jamaican team Harbour View, which robbed any real chance for newcomers Marcelo Gallardo, Franco Neill, Gonzalo Peralta and Gonzalo Martinez to mesh with him in competitive circumstances. Given Moreno's injury problems the past two seasons, such a scenario is likely to recur. He left the field clutching his hamstring and no update on his condition was available after the match.

Houston scratched out a 0-0 draw with CSD Municipal in Guatemala City with a starting XI deprived of midfielders Brian Mullan, Stuart Holden and Brad Davis, and defender Pat Ianni. Holden and Ianni are with the U.S. under-23s, Mullan and Davis have been injured, and all four will be needed during a crowded Dynamo schedule of league, U.S. Open Cup, CONCACAF and SuperLiga matches in addition to the usual attrition of suspensions and injuries.

After Neill replaced Moreno, he won a free kick that Gallardo whipped on goal and keeper Dwayne Miller flew left to turn past the post.

Harbour View breached the Martinez-Peralta pairing twice in the first half to produce chances that former MetroStar Fabian Taylor and ex-Wizard Jermaine Hue shot wide.

Neill and Gallardo linked up again in first-half stoppage time, and their exchanging of passes with Fred freed Gallardo to hit a shot that intersected with the run of Devon McTavish, who took the carom in stride and fired a low shot past Miller.

Wells, who needed a few minutes to regain his senses after taking a kick to head early in the match, denied Harbour View several times in the second half. He punched away a Hue free kick and dashed off his line to cover threatening through balls. But United couldn't keep possession to defuse Harbour View's spirited forward thrusts, and with five minutes left it failed to clear a Hue corner kick. Lovel Palmer reacted more quickly than Martinez and smashed the loose ball into the net.

United hosts the second leg at RFK Stadium Tuesday. Since no added weight is given to away goals, United cannot advance by eking out a goalless tie at RFK. Not that it would take that mindset, anyway; whether or not Moreno is available, Neill and Gallardo showed enough to suggest D.C. can rack up a few at home.

Houston conjured up several chances against CSD Municipal yet probably should have conceded at least one goal as well, but rode a bit of luck, some resilient defensive work, and the crisp goalkeeping of Pat Onstad to return home unscathed. Counterpart Jaime Penedo wasn't as busy yet turned away two Houston shots in rapid succession to keep it scoreless. The runs of Carlos Figueroa down the right flank stretched the Dynamo several times but none of his teammates could wield the sharp finishing edge required.

Chris Wondolowski, paired with Brian Ching up front, ran onto a nice cross by left back Wade Barrett to bounce a header wide of the far post late in the first half. Wondolowski earlier had been thwarted by Penedo on a sharp-angle shot from close range, and Penedo bounced up off the ground to also turn away Dwayne DeRosario's rebound attempt.

Gonzalo Romero squandered the best chance of the match 11 minutes into the second half when a cross evaded the Dynamo defense and landed at his feet at the edge of the six-yard box, but he somehow stabbed the shot wide with the outside of his left foot.

The luck cut both ways. In the 72nd minute, given time and space about 30 yards out, long-distance specialist Ricardo Clark flighted a shot toward the top corner that left Penedo flailing helplessly. But the ball struck the outside of the post just inches below the crossbar.

More Municipal flurries in the final minutes yielded chances but none had the pace or the precision to test Onstad. Mullan and recent Dynamo signing Franco Caraccio played the final seven minutes to prime them for what could be starting assignments when the teams meet again at Robertson Stadium on Wednesday.



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