Photo by ISIphotos.com
By AVI CREDITOR
WASHINGTON – Kris Kelderman waited as long as he could to unleash his "warrior."
Turns out the assistant-turned-acting-head-coach's judgment was spot on.
Andy Najar entered as D.C. United's final substitute in the 106th minute and scored the game-winner a minute later to lead United to a 2-1, extra-time victory over Real Salt Lake in a U.S. Open Cup play-in game.
"We were discussing putting him in a little earlier, but we had some guys cramping and we had to hold on to that last reserve for as long as we could," Kelderman said. "We felt real good about the energy that he would be bringing in, and he made the coaches look good tonight."
Najar, a 17-year-old D.C. United Academy product, used his fresh legs and fast feet to split Will Johnson and Tony Beltran on the right side of the penalty area. After squeaking through in complete control, he flipped a close-range shot past keeper Kyle Reynish to break the 1-1 deadlock.
"He showed a change of pace that you don't see too often with a player of his age at this level, and it was a brilliant finish," Kelderman said. "The kid's a warrior."
Najar's moment of glory stole the spotlight from an otherwise bland game featuring two teams that will face each other again in league play on Saturday.
Kelderman coached in place of Curt Onalfo, who was suspended for the match and United's next Open Cup match after being sent off against FC Dallas in a previous qualifier. Kelderman and Jason Kreis fielded teams of mostly reserves and waited until midway through the second half to bring on some regulars who could bring the game to the next level.
Action picked up after Alvaro Saborio, Fabian Espindola, Javier Morales, Chris Pontius and Santino Quaranta all entered in the 62nd minute.
United struck first after earning a penalty in the 75th minute. After Reynish stopped a Jordan Graye shot, Pontius tried to bicycle kick the deflected rebound into the goal. He semi-whiffed, but got enough of the ball to hit it at Real Salt Lake rookie Collen Warner's arm. The referee granted the penalty, and Luciano Emilio buried the spot-kick to open the scoring.
Six minutes later, Espindola completed a great individual run down the left with a cross that nicked Barry Rice's arm inside his own penalty area, earning Salt Lake a chance to equalize. Will Johnson shot to the lower right corner to even the score.
Rice made up for the miscue by twice clearing balls off the United goal line in the second period of extra time and D.C. nursing its one goal lead.
The win sealed United's place in the Open Cup Round-of-16, joining the Chicago Fire, Chivas USA, Columbus Crew, Houston Dynamo, Los Angeles Galaxy, New York Red Bulls and Seattle Sounders as Major League Soccer teams left in the competition.
United has Najar to thank for that, after his goal-and-assist performance against FC Dallas in the previous play-in game and his game-winner Wednesday night.
"Luckily I got the opportunity and I was able to take advantage and score the goal for us," Najar said through a translator. "There's a real positive attitude with the team right now after beating AC Milan and Chivas USA. After the game tonight we're feeling very good about ourselves, and hopefully we can keep it up."
Here are video highlights from the match: