WASHINGTON — D.C. United outlasted Real Salt Lake on a marathon evening at RFK Stadium on Wednesday, advancing into the U.S. Open Cup proper with a 2-1 overtime victory in muggy conditions in the nation’s capital.
The sides traded penalty kicks in regulation, and just when it looked like the affair would have to be settled by shootout, D.C. teenage phenom Andy Najar entered in the late going to conjure up a coolly-taken winner.
With both sides fielding reserve-laden lineups, much of the match was frustratingly choppy and the best early scoring opportunities were half-chances that fell to United striker Luciano Emilio, who fired wide on the first and later saw a deflected shot parried over the crossbar by RSL goalkeeper Kyle Reynish.
D.C. ‘keeper Troy Perkins was suddenly called into action in the 26th minute as an untimely outbreak of ball-watching spread through his back line, allowing Real midfielder Jean Alexandre to steal into the penalty box. But Perkins adroitly kick-saved the Haitian’s hard, low shot at the near post.
United right winger Boyzzz Khumalo should’ve put his side ahead on the half-hour mark after Jaime Moreno’s pass released him into acres of space. Yet after slipping past defender Rauwshan McKenzie, the South African scuffed his shot wide with Reynish at his mercy.
The second half continued in similarly disjointed fashion. Real seemed to have set up a sure goal after Jordan Graye’s turnover deep in his own end, but striker Pablo Campos had strayed well offsides before he centered for Collen Warner to tap home.
Kris Kelderman, deputizing for suspended D.C. boss Curt Onalfo, looked to add some fresh ideas by bringing on Santino Quaranta and Chris Pontius for Moreno and Castillo. His counterpart Jason Kreis did the same with the addition of starters Javi Morales, Fabian Espíndola and Álvaro Saborío.
But when the breakthrough finally arrived, it was inspired by United left back Graye, who ran onto Emilio’s defense-splitting pass down the left channel in the 74th minute and hit a low shot that was deflected straight up by Reynish. As the ball dropped Pontius tried an ambitious bicycle kick that looked well off-target, only to be handled by Warner. That drew an immediate whistle from referee Mark Kadlecik, who pointed to the spot and produced a yellow card for the infraction.
Emilio drilled the spot kick into the lower left corner for a 1-0 D.C. lead, but that lasted barely five minutes because RSL earned a penalty kick of their own when Espindola’s cross hit Barry Rice’s hand in the United box. Will Johnson stepped up and sent Perkins the wrong way to level matters at 1-1.
The game picked up some urgency in the final moments of regulation as Emilio had a side volley blocked at the last moment, Johnson cracked a knuckling blast just wide of the top corner at the other end and Pontius saw his low cross cut out by a desperate lunge from Robbie Russell.
Still, it remained 1-1 at full time so 30 minutes of overtime were required. With their infusion of Latin American attackers, the visitors were marginally better and came close on a Tony Beltran blast that was tipped over by Perkins in the first period of OT.
Kelderman had one more ace in the hole – and he played it to great effect at the start of the second period, using United’s final substitution to bring on Najar in place of Khumalo. The 17-year-old didn’t take long to make his mark, slashing between Beltran and Johnson on a marauding dribble into the RSL box before poking a low finish under Reynish for the go-ahead goal.
Real rallied, threatening when Johnson stabbed a close-range shot straight at Perkins with nine minutes left – and Rice had to produce two crucial goal line clearances on occasions when Perkins was drawn out of his goalmouth, but the Black-and-Red hung on for a hard-earned victory to advance into the USOC round of 16.