It almost wouldn’t be a D.C. United game in the U.S. Open Cup without things getting weird at the Maryland SoccerPlex, and that’s precisely what happened. Following 6 minutes of play, an 82-minute lightning delay, and then 114 more minutes of soccer, United and Orlando City headed to penalties before the Lions came out on top, advancing to the quarterfinals via the tiebreaker.
The game kicked off under pleasant skies, but the Plex’s lightning detection system can spot any strikes within a 10-mile radius. With 5:15 on the game clock, that’s exactly what happened, and an 82-minute delay ensued before the all-clear was given. During the delay, storms moved in, and most of the game was played in a downpour.
United dealt with the delay well, though, and looked sharp from the moment the game resumed. Darren Mattocks was nearly played through alone within a minute of kickoff, and by the 9th minute the Black-and-Red had a lead. Zoltan Stieber showed some flashy moves on the edge of the box before crossing to the back post for Mattocks. Mattocks couldn’t turn and shoot, so he laid a pass back towards the penalty spot where Luciano Acosta arrived to hammer a shot past Earl Edwards Jr.
Stieber probably should have made it 2-0 in the 15th minute, after forcing a turnover as Orlando pushed numbers forward in possession. Stieber broke in behind Orlando’s new-look back three, but his low shot was saved smartly by Edwards, who got his right foot out just in time to bail the Lions out.
United’s good start was undone by a calamitous error from Steve Clark in the 16th minute. Orlando did well to create a gap to pass through the middle of D.C.’s defense, with Sacha Kljestan slipping a pass by Chris Durkin to find Justin Meram inside the box. Meram shot hard and low, but right at Clark, who got down to make the save. Unfortunately, the ball slipped through his arms, then his legs, and slowly rolled over the goal line to level the score.
Mattocks thought he had made it 2-1 in the 33rd minute after a wonderful exchange between Acosta and Yamil Asad saw the former play United’s top scorer through a seam in the Orlando defense. Mattocks raced in, rounded Edwards, but just as he rolled the ball in the empty net, the offside flag came up. United couldn’t believe the call, but the scoreline remained 1-1.
The last action of the half was not ideal for United, as Joseph Mora went down after overlapping into the attack. After a minute or so of treatment, United opted to withdraw their left back, bringing Jalen Robinson in and moving Oniel Fisher over to Mora’s old spot.
The Black-and-Red started the second half well, with a spell of possession ending with a promising 52nd minute free kick. Asad’s delivery found Frederic Brillant escaping his marker, but the French center back’s header was at a convenient height for Edwards, who punched the shot away.
Orlando grew back into the game again, with Kljestan firing just over the bar on the hour mark from long distance. In the 69th minute, a dangerous move saw Chris Mueller pick out Stefano Pinho at the back post, but the Brazilian’s header bounced mercifully wide. Moments later, despite United getting a foot to several passes, the ball kept finding its way back to Orlando players, and RJ Allen’s shot through traffic missed Clark’s right-hand post by inches.
D.C. had been on the back foot for a long stretch, but their first attack to break that spell nearly put them ahead in the 78th minute. Some intricate passing play from left to right saw the ball eventually find Robinson overlapping on the right. Robinson’s cross was behind Mattocks, but Acosta’s acrobatic volley only missed going in by a slight deflection off of Lamine Sane.
If that was a close look for United, they came even closer within a minute. A ball over the top found Mattocks in the box, where he held Sane off while waiting for options. Acosta arrived, and Mattocks laid the ball back to the top of the box, where Acosta’s low shot skipped past Edwards only to slap against the foot of the post.
United kept coming. High pressure from Mattocks and Stieber forced a turnover deep in Orlando’s half, with Harkes eventually teeing Asad up for a shot that was disappointingly sent right at Edwards in the 83rd minute. D.C.’s high press suddenly became a big factor, with United forcing multiple turnover to generate chances.
Despite the late pressure, Open Cup tradition at the SoccerPlex almost demands extra time, and the two teams obliged. United nearly nosed out in front in the 98th minute, as a corner won via good work from Robinson was nodded towards goal by Steve Birnbaum. Mattocks reached out to prod the ball on goal, fooling Edwards, but the ball didn’t have enough on it to sneak through the goalkeeper’s legs before Edwards grabbed it on the line.
Orlando broke upfield, and during their counter Durkin — who was booked in the 52nd minute — clattered into Kljestan. Orlando’s chance barely ended up going wide, but referee Marcos de Oliveira correctly pulled play back after the stoppage to give United’s homegrown midfielder a second yellow in the 99th minute.
United was undaunted despite having to move to a 441 formation, with Junior Moreno replacing Stieber, but Orlando nearly had a goal with the last kick of the first half of extra time. Substitute Josue Colman had been quiet since replacing Pinho in the 74th minute, but his curling shot from 20 yards was earmarked for the far corner only for Clark to atone for his earlier mistake with a spectacular diving save.
The second half of extra time was mostly characterized by testiness from both sides. Two different small scuffles broke out, while Mohamed El-Munir was booked for kicking the ball at Acosta while he was down in the 116th minute.
With no goals coming, the match went to penalties, where United’s early misses cost them dearly. Yamil Asad’s shot in the first round was saved by Edwards, while Acosta’s attempted Panenka was too high, kissing the crossbar. Will Johnson, Kljestan, and Mueller converted, pushing United to the brink immediately. Ian Harkes kept United afloat, and Steve Clark produced a save on Jose Villarreal on Orlando’s fourth attempt. Patrick Mullins fired home with no problem to bring United within one, but Colman tucked his penalty home to send Orlando through to the quarterfinals.
United is back in action in ten days, facing a trip north to face the New England Revolution at Gillette Stadium on June 30th.