Thanks to Edgar Benitez's 83rd minute goal last week, D.C. United have a precarious situation to manage tomorrow in the second leg of their CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal. Down two goals, United have to find a way to score multiple times against los Gallos Blancos, but with that comes risk. Conceding even one goal will mean United will have to find the net four times in ninety minutes to advance to the semifinals of the competition.
Under manager Ben Olsen, this is now the fourth time that the Black-and-Red will come home in a two-game series trailing by two or more goals. In the three previous encounters, they've failed to overcome the deficit, conceding crippling goals in all three games.
"I don't think how we go about this game is any different the other aggregate situations where we were down 2-0," Olsen told reporters on Monday. "It's pretty simple stuff. You have to do everything. You have to score goals, and you have to keep a clean sheet."
In 2012, after defeating the New York Red Bulls in the Eastern Conference semifinals, United went down to play the Houston Dynamo, and lost the first leg 3-1, with away goals not used as a tiebreaker. A 1-1 draw was all that D.C. could muster. Similar in 2014 and in 2015, United won the second legs against the Red Bulls and Alajuelense in CCL play, but away conceding goals at home doomed their efforts anyway.
In Queretaro last week, United took a more measured approach to what was their first game of the season. Sitting back, trying to keep shape, United picked their moments going forward, and looked to take advantage of set pieces. That strategy worked for 70 minutes, only for Yerson Candelo's ferocious shot to give the home side the lead. Benitez's goal is probably the more important one, though, putting United in a very tricky situation
"We have to push more, press the gas a bit more. We have to be smart. Don't concede, be organized," Marcelo Sarvas said on Monday. "We have to press them, we have to look for a goal. We are going to chase a goal from the first minute to the last minute."
"It's a dangerous thing, when in the aggregate format, you give one up. It can be a long night. I certainly think we are capable of scoring a couple of goals on them, it's just a matter of if we can hold them to zero while slowly pushing the game," Olsen added.
On the flip side, where many teams might come into the second leg with a two goal advantage looking to protect their lead, Sarvas believes that Queretaro will instead look to pad their lead. Rather than sitting back and playing for a 0-0 draw, the Brazilian thinks los Gallos Blancos will pursue a vital away goal.
"If you look at the Mexicans, they are never going to go and defend. It's the culture," Sarvas said. "Maybe tactically, they will play with one more guy in the midfield, but not the style of play."
"They are going to come to attack, to score a goal, because they know if they score a goal, the game is going to be much more difficult for us."
Scoring two goals for United isn't quite as insurmountable as it may have seemed last season. Even as they sat back last week in Mexico, United took more shots,and had more shots on goal than Queretaro. Some of those might have been fruitless long range efforts from Fabian Espindola, but Luciano Acosta had a good look that was saved, and Steve Birnbaum was denied three times by netminder Tiago Volpi. Taylor Kemp, in what seemed to be a speculative effort with his right foot, smashed the woodwork from distance with a shot that had Volpi beat.
That is to say, United won't have to pour numbers forward from the opening whistle. Finding the balance between scoring goals and keeping a clean sheet is imperative for United to advance to the semifinal stage of the competition.
"It's going to be more attacking this time. But it is a fine line. We aren't going to throw the kitchen sink at them in the first half. The main thing is that we can't give up that away goal," said midfielder Nick DeLeon. "We are going to make them feel a little more uncomfortable. They could move the ball side to side pretty easily in Queretaro because we were sitting back, and that's not going to be the case here at home."
"We'll get the chances, we just have to finish them."