RICHMOND, Va. – It was just as cruel as it was sweet on Tuesday night for DC United as the club switched gears from league play into the 99th edition of the US Open Cup.
Major League Soccer’s leader in games played required an extra 30 minute overtime session before ultimately moving past the Richmond Kickers 2-1 in the third-round before 5,014 at Richmond City Stadium.
“We made a meal out of that game and we made it more difficult than it needed to be,” coach Ben Olsen said after his team survived thanks to some late game heroics from an unusual source.
Marcelo Saragosa provided the game-winning strike in the 107th minute after controlling Branko Boskovic’s beautifully placed corner kick in the middle of a crowded box. The Brazilian calmly buried his shot past Kickers goalie Ronnie Pascale on a night where D.C. United held a decisive 13-3 advantage in corner kicks.
“We can score on corner kicks and I’m happy to score like that,” Saragosa said after registering his first goal for the Black-and-Red.
The overtime goal would be especially sweet for Saragosa after the midfielder found himself on the wrong end of a penalty decision just before the halftime whistle.
Reigning USL-Pro Player of the Week Chris Agorosr went down inside the penalty box on a stern Saragosa challenge. Stanley Nyazamba immediately stepped up and sent D.C. United goalie Joe Willis the wrong way as his penalty shot brought the third-division Kickers level at the break.
“A gut check sometimes isn’t the end of the world,” Olsen said about his Eastern Conference leading squad.
“We got through it tonight. Having played and coached in Open Cups now for a long time, this is it – it’s every time. [Open Cup games] never go easy. The other team is always fighting for their lives.”
United got things going in the 24th minute when leading goal scorer Maicon Santos rewarded Hamdi Salihi’s brilliant run between and behind Kickers defenders with a perfectly weighted pass in front of goal. From there, the Albanian had no problem finding the back of the net for an early 1-0 lead.
But then the 35-year old Pascale, who doubles as an assistant coach for the Richmond Kickers, put on a show, particularly in the second half with six saves – including two on point-blank shots from Nick DeLeon.
“Year after year, in particular against us, he’s been a big time performer,” Olsen said about Pascale’s ability to stymie his club.
“He’s a legend here and I’m happy that he had a good night tonight.”
Olsen countered the superb goal keeping by last year’s Open Cup semi-finalist by bringing in one of his two Designated Players in Branko Boskovic.
“You could tell they were sitting back and we needed someone with some better ideas out there,” Olsen said about the decision to bring on Boskovic who, with his contract soon set to expire, continues to put in valuable shifts.
The win is the fifth in the last six games in all competitions for D.C. United who now move on to face the Philadelphia Union in the fourth-round of the Open Cup on June 5 at the Maryland Soccerplex.
“We must continue to win – it doesn’t matter against who,” Boskovic said about advancing past a lower division team in a cup competition.
“Every game is a new challenge and a new experience.”
D.C. United improved to 4-1 against Richmond all-time in Open Cup play.
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