D.C. United needed a long time, but finally found the breakthrough in a 1-0 win over LD Alajuelense in the first-ever Capital Cup match. Felipe Martins settled the game with an 87th minute goal direct from a free kick as United — featuring a mix of D.C. and Loudoun United players — wore down the Costa Rican 2020 Apertura champions.
Hernán Losada, making changes for a friendly tournament, had some good news in store, as veteran defender Steven Birnbaum made his return from two offseason ankle surgeries for his first action in 2021. United also called Jovanny Bolívar in from his loan to Loudoun United to start up top, while two more players under contract with Loudoun (Landry Nanan Houssou and Gaoussou Samaké) filled out the lineup.
The opening exchanges were scrappy, with neither team managing much in the way of danger. Carlos Mora shot wide when well-placed in the 23rd minute, while Bolívar’s effort from the top of the box being deflected over the bar for a corner the home side couldn’t capitalize on. La Liga replied almost immediately, with Brandon Aguilera picking up Mora’s cutback and forcing a solid save out of Jon Kempin in the 29th minute.
Griffin Yow forced a save out of goalkeeper Mauricio Vargas in the 37th minute, with the Black-and-Red then forcing another stop as Birnbaum headed the resulting corner on goal. The ball found its way to Joseph Mora, who couldn’t quite get contact from three yards out, leaving the match scoreless.
Yow looked like a threat again in the 49th minute, cutting in from the right to play a pass that Alajuelense couldn’t deal with. Kimarni Smith, one of three halftime substitutions, dummied the ball on to open a shooting window for Yordy Reyna, but the Peruvian cut the ball back and eventually had his shot blocked.
Within a minute of coming on for Reyna, Loudoun call-up Kairou Amoustapha was put through on goal, but a first touch that left him with too much to do resulted in a weak shot, much to the Nigerien international’s frustrations.
Smith then had another good look in the 73rd minute, but didn’t fire fast enough to beat the Alajuelense defense, who came up with yet another block. At the other end, Chris Seitz had little to do after replacing Kempin at halftime, but he did do well to race out and defuse a long ball in the 80th minute.
United had clearly worn Alajuelense down with their second half possession, but had to wait until the 87th minute for a winner. Smith won a dangerous free kick on the edge of the box. With Vargas unsighted by a mob of Black-and-Red players, Felipe saw his chance to cleverly shoot low under the jumping wall, beating Vargas with a cheeky 23-yard shot.
United will conclude its Capital Cup schedule this Sunday, when they take on Alianza FC of El Salvador at 5:30pm on Buzzard Point.
Capital Cup - Game 1
D.C. United 1 (Felipe 87)
LD Alajuelense 0
DCU (343): Jon Kempin (Chris Seitz 46); Steven Birnbaum (Allexon Saravia 46), Frédéric Brillant (C), Joseph Mora; Griffin Yow, Felipe Martins (Nicky Downs 91+), Landry Nanan Houssou (Ted Ku-DiPietro 69), Gaoussou Samaké (Jacob Greene 81); Yamil Asad, Jovanny Bolívar (Kimarni Smith 46), Yordy Reyna (Kairou Amoustapha 58)
LDA (433): Mauricio Vargas; Ian Smith, Fernán Faerron, Daniel Arreola (Alexis Gamboa 34), Yurguin Román; Bernald Alfaro, José Miguel Cubero (Aarón Suárez 77), Brandon Aguilera; Carlos Mora (Dorian Rodríguez 88), Jurguens Montenegro, Barlon Sequeira
DCU - Asad 72
LDA - Faerron 43, Aguilera 82