D.C. United looked like they had more than one eye on Tuesday's CONCACAF Champions League match today, losing 4-1 to the Montreal Impact in their final preseason game. A second-choice United lineup was undone by three Impact goals in the first half hour, with Dominic Oduro scoring twice. The Black-and-Red replied through Alvaro Saborio and improved after halftime, but ultimately couldn't claw their way back into the game.
Ben Olsen started the match with only one potential starter (Markus Halsti) for the trip to Mexico, and he was in less familiar role than normal to boot. Halsti partnered Jalen Robinson in central defense, with an unnamed academy player at right back and Luke Mishu on the left to complete the back four in front of Travis Worra. In the midfield, Miguel Aguilar and Rob Vincent took the right and left wings, respectively, while Paul Clowes partnered Collin Martin centrally. Julian Buescher played as the attacking midfielder floating underneath Saborio.
The unfamiliar lineup was tormented in the opening half-hour by the Impact, who were at full strength save for two admittedly important players in Didier Drogba and Ignacio Piatti. Montreal's speed was the major problem, as they were able to play Oduro and rookie Michael Salazar in behind the defense over and over again.
Those two combined to create the game's first goal. Worryingly for United fans, last season's trend of conceding early has carried over, with the Impact going out in front after just 5 minutes. A quick one-two between Salazar and Oduro freed the speedy Ghanaian up, and Worra reacted a split-second too late to the danger. Oduro clipped a shot over Worra, who opted to go low, and the ball floated across the goalmouth and in at the far post.
Salazar was very busy in the first half, but not all of it was good. The rookie - already a regular for Belize's national team - made an inexplicable back pass in the 17th minute that went straight to Saborio. Salazar got away with it, though, as Saborio made the puzzling decision to slow play down, allowing Victor Cabrera to recover. Eventuallythe chance dissolved, with Saborio sheepishly taking a shot that Cabrera easily blocked.
A minute later, it was 2-0. Montreal crisply pinged the ball around midfield before Johan Venegas switched play out to the right flank for Donny Toia. United never caught up to the switch, allowing Toia to find Harrison Shipp, who smartly played Oduro through the exposed channel. Oduro's low shot was saved well by Worra, but he had no chance to prevent a rebound that Salazar essentially slide-tackled into the goal while Halsti was trying to get in position to clear without scoring an own goal himself.
United dodged another bullet in the 20th minute, after a turnover gave the industrious Salazar another look only to be denied by Robinson and Mishu crowding him out inside the box. United offered up one good response - Saborio teeing up Vincent for a powerful low shot that Evan Bush barely tipped around the post in the 24th minute - but the rest of the play was all in United's half.
Salazar was again involved in the 28th minute, as a long ball from Ambroise Oyongo found him at the far post trying to flick the ball on frame. The rookie's header was going to sneak into the upper corner, only for Worra to get over and safely touch the ball over the bar instead. The corner from Marco Donadel found Salazar - yes, again - wide open, but this time he was denied by Aguilar on the goal line after his powerful header got past Worra. United wasn't even out of danger on that play, as the half-clearance fell to Shipp. The former Chicago Fire playmaker shook off some defenders, but his shot from the top of the box was easily saved by Worra.
Even that sequence wasn't enough to wake the Black-and-Red, and some bad luck handed Montreal a third goal. Robinson's 31st minute attempt to switch the point of attack hit the completely unaware Eric Alexander in the back, and the ball fell perfectly for Oduro. A quick dip of the shoulder saw Oduro send Halsti out of his path and into Robinson's, leaving the veteran striker with an easy finish past Worra.
United did improve after that, scoring the game's next goal in the 36th minute. Lamar Neagle - who came on for Vincent in the 32nd minute - was picked out by Martin in a huge amount of space down the left flank. Neagle took full advantage, whipping in an inch-perfect cross that evaded Cabrera and Laurent Ciman but fell perfectly for Saborio at the back post. Saborio did what he's done for his whole career, side-footing with ease past a helpless Bush to make it 3-1.
Olsen made 5 changes at halftime, with United staying in the 4411. Andrew Dykstra came in for Worra, while there were 2 subs made in defense: Constantine Kolokotronis came in at right back, with the academy defender moving to center back and Halsti leaving the game. Robinson stayed in the middle, with Mishu being replaced by trialist Paul Torres on the left. In the midfield, Aguilar maintained his spot, but the central midfield duo changed: Jared Jeffrey replaced Clowes, while trialist Andrea Mancini came in for Saborio (with Martin moving to left midfield and Neagle going up front).
Both teams seemed unable to solve each other , with United creating the only real threat either way. After a decent series of passes to transition through midfield, Aguilar got behind Oyongo on the right. Aguilar then cut the ball back for Neagle, who teed Buescher up for a blast. Unfortunately, the German rookie was leaning and fired well over the bar, accidentally hitting a small child in the crowd behind the net (who turned out to be OK according to the Rowdies broadcast team calling the game).
Moments after Montreal had made 5 subs, United sent 9 new players into the match in the 69th minute. Dykstra stayed in goal behind a familiar back four of Sean Franklin, Bobby Boswell, Steve Birnbaum, and Taylor Kemp. In the midfield, Patrick Nyarko came in on the right, Marcelo Sarvas and Nick DeLeon took over centrally, and Chris Rolfe slotted in on the left wing. Luciano Acosta replaced Buescher as the #10, and Neagle stayed up front as the lone striker.
The Black-and-Red, facing a second-choice Impact group, took control of proceedings. Nyarko won an 80th minute free kick along the right, and Sarvas hooked in a good service for Birnbaum. Birnbaum easily won a header over his marker and nodded the ball back across goal for Boswell, only for Bush to tip the ball away at the last moment (and briefly end up holding his head after colliding with Boswell in the process).
From the ensuing corner, United went even closer to a goal: Sarvas found Birnbaum again, and this time the big man crashed a header off the crossbar. The rebound left Bush stranded, but came down so quickly that DeLeon couldn't react to what was otherwise a sitter. DeLeon did eventually make contact with the ball, but only enough to guide it into Bush's hands.
United kept looking for a second goal. In the 82nd minute, Franklin put in a dangerous cross for three different runners inside the box, but DeLeon's diving effort to poke the ball home only saw him able to skip the ball wide of the back post. Moments later, Acosta drew an audible reaction from the crowd after dancing out of a one-versus-three situation at midfield before being bundled over by Calum Mallace.
Montreal, having barely offered up an attack in the second half, stretched their lead in the 86th minute. Rookie Eric Verso fought through a foul to pass to Kyle Bekker, who kept it moving on to Romario Williams. Williams, from an angle, dinked the ball over the approaching Dykstra and towards goal. Boswell and Kemp both gave chase, and may have cleared the ball before it crossed the line - the only replay shown was from behind the goal, pretty much the worst angle to judge this sort of thing - but the far-side assistant referee signaled that the ball was in.
The game got very stretched from there. Rolfe and Kemp combined to create a threat down the left for United almost immediately from kickoff, and then moments later a good counter from Montreal ended with Verso blazing a shot over the crossbar. In stoppage time, United forced a turnover in the Impact half, leading to Franklin's cross that was just inches from being finished off by Neagle at the near post. Montreal tried to play out of the back, but Sarvas picked off a pass to keep the attack going. Nyarko was eventually fouled just outside the box, but the ensuing free kick was curled about a yard too high and too wide by Sarvas.
United will turn their focus towards their first serious game of 2016, which will take place in Queretaro's Estadio Corregidora at 8pm Tuesday. We will add game highlights when they become available.