OLSEN CRUSHES ALAJUELA HOPES
18 Jan 2001, 13:22 (EDT)
(Russell Richey) United inflicted a cruel defeat on Alajuela as Ben Olsen poked in the gamewinner with a back-post header in injury time, breaking a 1-1 deadlock and sending the Beltway side deservedly into the Champions Cup semi-finals.
Olsen was in reliable position after a dangerous service by United midfielder Bobby Convey from the left had just missed the crossing of forward Ben Albright and Alajuela goalkeeper Alvaro Murillo at the center of the six. The on-loan Forest flanker showed the value of being in place at the right time with a simple conversion, and the dramatic victory was United's, although Alajuela were attempting to stake their own claim to the end.
"Bobby sent us a good ball," said Olsen. "Chris makes that goal. He hit the near post drawing two defenders and the goalie and it slipped through to me for the goal."
After Alajuela Capitán Luis Arnaez had equalized with a smooth stroke from the spot with less than 20 minutes from time, D.C., whose lead was earned but slim, began to experience the downside of owning but not exploiting the advantage. Alajuela's game throughout was ever ready on the counter-attack, and although their thrusts were often haphazard and true threats presented few, danger always lurked in a shock event that could wrench D.C. from the beginning the healing process after a horrible 2000 MLS campaign.
Carey Talley was the unfortunate one when he was called for the telling foul on Carlos Mora, but the referee's call was just even though Mora's run would have likely have amounted to nothing, and the infraction had occurred just inside the box.
And in obvious irony, until this point it had been Talley's day as his effort had given United a mark on the scoreboard through a breathtaking one-touch strike off a Marco Etcheverry corner. The Bolivian's service from the left pole reached the 24-year old around the spot and he caught it all, leaving Alajuela doorman Alvaro Murillo to curse the perfection of the delivery as it slapped the mesh.
The goals provided gratifying of moments of electricity in the match, but overall, the entertainment came from D.C.'s good ball movement and spirited play. United established a pattern of general ownership of possession early and continued this theme throughout the match. The beltway side found open men, created nifty triangles and were easily satisfied to change the flow of attack in a meandering fashion, often, however, around the back line when in Alajuela territory.
D.C. also seemed to have been given the flanks by default. They were alternately allowed to serve Convey and Olsen unmolested wide, or choose to leave the spaces open for Albright to fill from his position up front. Albright also provided strong individual forward pushes, taking on men and territory. Overall, D.C. clicked to a man and by unit, yet, their end game did not reflect the good work prior. True chances could have been more and opportunities were left wanting, with Eddie Pope regretting a header and Convey wishing his effort had been better after slight return was given to a cream puff push pass at the top of the box.
Alajuela's shape tended to yield, but they made good with keeping D.C.'s chances to a reasonable minimum. The Costa Rican side had trouble, however, with their own build-up and maintenance of possession. Central midfielder Wilmer Arguedas gave in terms of playmaking, but the Costa Rican Champions opted too often for direct advancement down the center or dull service to men forward, and United's back four were repeatedly up to the task of patient yet forceful denial.
At the 59th minute, Mora thought he had an equalizer with an exposing run in box and his neat tuck by D.C. netminder Mark Simpson off the service, but the linesman's offside call was correct and nullifying, and Alajuela were still in wanting.
Other forays for the Central Americans into United territory could have ended less with poor execution, and cyclical ebb and flow of vocal excitement from their supporters was a repeating loop surrounding the frustrations of those on the pitch.
Still, Alajuela's Titan Stadium experience could have been glorious, if a bit unearned, for each run of possession they had could have delivered a crippling sting to United's game. And while the American side's victory was truly theirs and a magnificent boost to fragile morale, the knot at 92 minutes was a tense reminder that all might have gone wrong in the end.
A stay in Los Angeles, however, has been extended for the MLS former champions, and the challenge to continue the Red-and-Black redemption renews when coach Thomas Rongen takes his side into their next test in the CONCACAF Champions Cup on Friday.
VICTORINE PENALTY CONVERSION ADVANCES GALAXY
18 Jan 2001, 11:44 (EDT)
It was dé jà vu all over ago again when Los Angeles starlet Sasha Victorine gave his side the clinching effort in penalty kicks after the Galaxy and Honduran club Real Espana had ended regulation without score in the Champions Cup quarterfinals.
The Olympic hero, who delivered the decisive PK-strike that sent USA over Japan and into the medal round at Sydney, put the final cap on a match the Galaxy might have won in regulation with crisper finishing.
After an uninspiring first half for both sides, the Californians began to create chances against the Honduran champions. Adam Frye would have liked another try at the service by short-terming sign Cobi Jones, and Pete Vegenas had justified high hopes when his screamer went just over the bar.
Real Espana were just as unsuccessful at penetrating their opponents ramparts in the second half, but when it came to penalty kicks, an opening muff by Hector Gutierrez put the Hondurans in a hole. And after four Galaxians reliably slotted home their responsibilities, it was fifth shooter Victorine to closed the door on Espana's dream of advancing to the world club championships.
The Galaxy will now meet bitter rivals D.C. United in the CONCACAF Champions Cup semifinals on Friday night at the Los Angeles Colesium. The Red-and-Black left it late, but came through to take Costa Rica club Alajuela 2-1 in the dying embers of injury time off a header by Ben Olsen.