[CONCACAF CHAMPIONS LEAGUE] Since the advent of the Concacaf Champions League last year, D.C. United has failed to win a game in eight attempts. But by rallying from a 1-0 deficit in a hostile environment and fighting through fatigue during a draining overtime, United prevailed in a two-game series to reach the group phase.
It beat Luis Angel Firpo on penalty kicks (5-4) Tuesday after the teams had played their second successive 1-1 tie to leave them knotted on aggregate, 2-2.
Christian Gomez, whose free-kick equalizer late in the first half matched a Leandro Franco strike just three minutes earlier, drilled home United's fifth consecutive successful attempt in the shootout to edge it past Firpo, which came up short after Manuel Salazar sailed his team's fourth kick a foot over the crossbar.
Franco converted a penalty kick in the 39th minute whistled by referee Oscar Moncada when Mark Burch's arm knocked down a Dennis Alas cross. Burch was cautioned and keeper Josh Wicks nearly followed him into the book for his fierce protest of Franco's approach that included a full stop. Moncada, though, allowed the goal.
Gomez got that goal back in the 42nd minute with a free kick in the middle of the field from 25 yards out after Jose Campos was booked for fouling Santino Quaranta. Goalie Jose Gomez flew to his left and got a touch on the bending free kick but it bounced down off his outstretched glove and into the net.
A flurry of chances at both ends early in the first overtime gave way to fatigue and cramps afflicting members of both teams as they labored to last until the final whistle.
Rodney Wallace fired a low shot from distance that Jose Gomez sprawled to parry and pounced on the rebound before Fred could reach it. United went down a man late in the second overtime when a savage kick to the Achilles tendon of Carlos Monteagudo by Fred prompted Moncada to pull out the red card.
After each team converted their first three kicks, Salazar - apparently trying to emulate a teammate who hammered his shot over Wicks' shoulder and just under the crossbar - fired high on Firpo's fourth. Burch belted a shot past Gomez, and United's Gomez held his nerve on the final kick once Christian Sanchez had converted to tie the match one last time at 4-4.
Gomez, who'd guessed wrongly throughout the shootout, went to his right. So did the other Gomez's low shot; it caromed off the base of the post and skipped just behind the goalline to settle in the opposite side-netting. By that narrow margin United advanced .
In Group B United will play Toluca (Mexico), Marathon (Honduras) and either San Juan Jabloteh (Trinidad & Tobago) or San Francisco FC (Panama) in a double-round robin that begins Aug. 18 in Honduras against Marathon in San Pedro Sula.
Concacaf Champions League
Preliminary round, second leg
Aug. 4 in San Salvador
Luis Angel Firpo 1, D.C. United 1.
(Aggregate: 2-2; D.C. wins 5-4 on penalties)
Goals: Franco (penalty kick) 39; C. Gomez 42.
Penalties: Alas (goal), J. Sanchez (goal), Merino (goal), Salazar (high), C, Sanchez (goal); Pontius (goal), Szetela (goal), Olsen (goal), Burch (goal), C. Gomez (goal).
Luis Angel Firpo - Gomez, Turcio, Montiagudo, J. Sanchez, Salazar, Franco (Quijada, 109), C. Sanchez, Jose Campos (Merino, 84), Alas, Leguizamon (Juan Campos, 70), Benitez.
D.C. United - Wicks, Namoff, Jakovic, Burch, Quaranta (Jacobson, 88) Wallace, Olsen, Fred, C. Gomez, Emilio (Szetela, 91), Moreno (Pontius, 72).
Referee: Oscar Moncada
Red card: Fred 118.