D.C. downed in Mexico

[GAME REPORT] If Luis Montes isn't a regular starter for Pachuca, D.C. United players and coaches would like to know why. In the Concacaf Champions Cup Wednesday night at Estadio Hildago, he came on as a halftime substitute and proved to be the perfect focal point for an attack that couldn't stop squandering chances.

Montes, 21, sent a searing left-footed strike into the net to break open a scoreless game and late in the match won a free kick that he himself converted with a brave flying header at the far post. By his two goals Pachuca, which overran D.C. for most of the match, took the first leg of this semifinal series.

The 8,000-foot altitude took its toll early. With Jaime Moreno on the bench, United could only hang with Pachuca for the first half an hour or so, despite relentless running by Fred and Luciano Emilio and the slick touches of Marcelo Gallardo. Yet still D.C. left gaps and spaces for Cristian Gimenez and Andres Chitiva to exploit, but Marvin Cabrera drilled a header just over the crossbar, Juan Carlos Cacho fired a wide-open shot right into keeper Zach Wells' legs, and Gabriel Caballero sliced his attempt wide of far corner.

Emilio's pressure nearly paid off during a footrace with Miguel Calero for a through ball that the Pachuca keeper had to come out of his area to get his head on. He lunged and his header hit Emilio in the stomach but the ball caromed off to the side and Emilio couldn't catch up to it in time to hit the vacated net.

Pachuca oach Enrique Meza sent out Montes and Juan Francisco Torres, whose insertion cranked up the pace. Torres startled Wells with a 25-yard knuckler that hit the post just below the crossbar, and despite some heroic tackles by Gonzalo Martinez and a last-ditch clearance by his namesake and central partner Gonzalo Peralta, United finally cracked.

Montes was well out on the left wing and not far from the touchline as he swung his left foot into the ball, and with Wells a few yards off his line, drove a shot that caught the D.C. keeper leaning the wrong way and zipped between his lunge and the near post. As had been the case on Torres' shot and a few others, the thin air may have been a factor in the ball's speed and flight path, but Wells' positioning also played a role.

A brief United push produced a chance for Emilio that was blocked and a piercing ball by Gallardo that no D.C. player could reach. Pachuca regained control and probably should have been awarded a penalty with Devon McTavish clipped Montes on the edge of the penalty area, but managed to cash in nonetheless.

Gimenez hit another "altitude ball," a driven right-footer to the far post that Montes leaped to crash into the net off the inside of the post an instant before he crashed into Wells. The striker needed a few minutes to continue after being temporarily stymied for the first time since entering the match.

An offside decision denied Pachuca a third goal when Cacho tapped into the net during yet another attack, which leaves D.C. hopeful and capable of overturning the 2-0 deficit in the second leg at RFK next Wednesday. It will need goals, of course, as well as a way to stop not just the established offensive stars of its rivals, but also two of its youngest prospects.


MLS champ Houston has some holes to fill

By Ridge Mahoney

[PREVIEW] The 2007 MLS champion has yet to hit its stride and is in the midst of a stretch that would be tough for any team, even one that has all its players healthy and available. The Dynamo is missing a few bodies for its semifinal, first leg encounter with Deportivo Saprissa of Costa Rica in the Concacaf Champions Cup Wednesday (10 p.m. ET, Fox Soccer Channel), but it could have two players added from the squad that lost in feeble fashion to New England, 3-0, in its MLS opener last weekend.

Right back Craig Waibel and midfielder Ricardo Clark will be available; both were notable by their absence last Saturday. Brian Mullan struggled at right back in Waibel's place and Richard Mulrooney, while diligent, doesn't have the range and pace Clark brings to the central midfield.

A knee problem will sideline Mullan against Deportivo Saprissa and also injured are midfielders Brad Davis (groin) and Stuart Holden (ankle). Defender Eddie Robinson is bothered by a sore back but is expected to play.

Deportivo Saprissa stunned Mexican club Atlante, 3-0, in the second leg of their quarterfinal series to win, 4-2, on aggregate. Two own goals helped its cause, but the club that was bought by Chivas Guadalajara owner Jorge Vergara several years ago has dominated the Costa Rican First Division this season.

The club features several players who have faced the U.S. national team many times playing for Costa Rica: midfielder Walter Centeno, forward Ronald Gomez, and defender Jervis Drummond and Gabriel Badilla. Armando Alonso finished off a long pass from Gomez for the vital third goal (on aggregate) against Atlante.

Houston coach Dominic Kinnear is still auditioning candidates to partner forward Brian Ching. Chris Wondolowski started against New England and was replaced by young Argentine Franco Caraccio; neither played effectively against the Revs, and a quiet game for Dwayne De Rosario further impaired the Dynamo attack.

In the quarterfinal round against CSD Municipal, De Rosario and midfielder Corey Ashe carried much of the attacking load. DeRosario followed up on a ball kept alive by Ching to score the first; Ashe earned a penalty kick that DeRosario converted to score the second; and another determined run by Ashe set up Wondolowksi for the third.

Houston resumes MLS play Sunday at home against Western Conference rival FC Dallas, then heads to San Jose, Costa Rica for the second leg against Deportivo Saprissa, which is followed by consecutive away games at Kansas City, Los Angeles, and Columbus. For the Dynamo, the end of April can't come soon enough.

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