Bienvenidos, Luciano Emilio (Wilkommen, Welcome to D.C.) -- Luciano Emilio made his RFK debut tonight, and really started off on the right foot, scoring twice to give D.C. United a 3-2 victory. CD Olimpia had taken the early lead on a penalty kick, after Bryan Namoff was flagged for a sliding tackle in the box. Namoff reacted angrily, but the penalty was awarded by referee Mauricio Navarro, infamous for helping to set up Landon Donovan's breakaway goal against Mexico last month. United, to its credit, did not go into a defensive shell to protect the series lead. Jaime Moreno set up Emilio with a pass back through the box, which Emilio took wide, and then drove the ball low, past the Olimpia 'keeper for the tying goal.
In the second half, Gomez put DC ahead on a penalty shot, after Ben Olsen had his legs cut out from under him. United squandered the lead in the 75th minute, when Wilson Palacios and Jose Pacini combined for a a beautiful bit of attacking magic, with Pacini racing past flat-footed Facundo Erpen, taking Palacios' pass, and touching the ball past Jay Nolly, who had replaced the injured Troy Perkins a few minutes earlier (Palacios was quite impressive -- one has to wonder if he has any interest in coming north sometime soon. Perhaps he would like to rejoin Emilio in a year or two? Palacios probably enjoys life with Olimpia, where he is joined by two of his brothers, but it would be worth finding out if he's interested in conquering new territory).
United could have sat on the tie, and a 6-3 aggregate score lead, but they continued to attack. Jamil Walker had several close chances, looking very fit and healthy after missing the final two months with an injury, last year. The winner came when Emilio took a long pass from Gomez, controlling the overhead pass on the run, and coolly pushed another sharply-angled shot past the charging goalkeeper.
This was a great game to watch, with lovely attacking soccer on both sides. I'm sorry that my health and a steady rain kept me home. I'm guessing that the crowd was held down by the weather, the temperature, and United's decisive victory last week, which meant Olimpia had to outscore United by 3 goals, or go home. I hope for a better turnout in two weeks, when United hosts Chivas of Guadalajara in the first leg of the semifinal series of this CONCACAF Champions Cup tourney.
My impression? United still looks very shaky in the back -- with a Swiss cheese defense. United fans have to hope the injury to Perkins will not prove to be a long-term problem, because United will need his steady presence. On offense, however, they are as good as they have ever been. Emilio was a fantastic signing, who will help United bring home a number of titles, if he sticks around for awhile. Hola, Luciano Emilio. Pleased to meet you.
In the night's other match....(check back later for an update, with my report on the Dynamo-Puntarenas tilt).