With 70 minutes on the clock Tuesday night at Estadio Corregidora, proceedings looked just peachy for D.C. United in their first leg tilt against Queretaro in CONCACAF Champions League play. Yes, United had been been denied a goal or two by the crossbar and some strong goalkeeping, but with the score at 0-0 that outcome would have been just fine heading back to the District.
Even a minute later, when Yerson Candelo lashed in a goal from 20 yards out, the Black-and-Red seemed in decent shape. Overcoming a deficit of just one goal in next week's home leg didn't seem out of the question, especially with the chances that United had created.
But all of that was undone in the 83rd minute, when Edgar Benitez netted Queretaro's second, and potentially put the series out of reach for United.
"We gave up a late one, and that one hurt a bit," United manager Ben Olsen said post game.
With legs tiring -- D.C. was playing their first competitive game in nearly four months, at an altitude of almost 6000 feet -- Sinha lifted a ball from near midfield over the back line, and into the box. Right back Sean Franklin made an attempt, but couldn't redirect the pass, and Benitez was in alone on goal. The Paraguayan international showed no mercy in giving Los Gallos a critical second goal.
It's a far cry from the crushing 5-2 loss at Alajuelense last year at this same stage, but the deficit might still be too much for the Black-and-Red to overcome.
"It's frustrating for us to play the way that we did, and to lose 2-0," Franklin told B&RU. "We played well for 70 minutes, but two let downs. One good goal, and the second one was soft. It is what it is."
That good play from United normally would have resulted in a goal or two. But with Tiago Volpi standing on his head, and the woodwork helping the Brazilian out twice, United's streak of scoring in 19 straight Champions League games came to a screeching halt just when a goal would have mattered most.
Steve Birnbaum had a header from a corner pushed onto the bar by Volpi in the 4th minute, with Fabian Espindola denied later on in the first half at the near post. In the second half, Taylor Kemp hit the woodwork with a thunderous right-footed effort from 25 yards out, before Volpi denied Birnbaum twice on the doorstep following a long throw-in.
An inch or two here and there, and the outcome might have been different for the Black-and-Red.
"[Volpi] made a save or two, but obviously I would have liked to test him more," Olsen added.
"We're not happy with the result, but there were some good things out there. Guys defended well for most of the game," Birnbaum said to B&RU. "We looked pretty tired towards the end of the game, and that took a toll on us."
While the second goal seemed to be a byproduct of United's fatigue late on in the game, the first goal from Candelo was unstoppable at any point in the game. A quick counter and long ball from Queretaro after a foray forward from Marcelo Sarvas set Los Gallos streaming towards United's goal.
United recovered quickly enough, but with Candelo on the ball outside of the box, the substitute took aim at goal, beating Dykstra at the near post with a wonderfully placed shot.
"It was a hell of a shot. The ball went up, it came down, I don't think he could have placed it any better than he did," said Dykstra of the goal.
The hole that United now find themselves in is one that they believe they can get themselves out of though. The chances they created in Queretaro, some of the overall play, proved to be positives, despite the end result after 90 minutes.
But to have a chance to advance to the semifinals, they will have to avoid conceding any away goals. After all, if Queretaro gets just one goal at RFK Stadium, United would need to score at least four times to advance.
"Overall I'm pleased with the performance of our group and we're better for having come down here and played this game. It was a good effort, but disappointing to give up that second goal," Olsen said. "But that's the game and we now have to go back to D.C. and score a couple of goals on our own."
"It's simple: We have to be very aggressive and make sure we score two goals and also protect from the away goal."