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Alajuelense routs D.C. United in CCL quarterfinal opener



Entering Thursday’s action in preseason form, D.C. United was always going to be a bit behind the eight ball heading into the team’s CONCACAF Champions League match with Alajuelense. However, Ben Olsen and co. could not have imagined things would have gone as poorly as they did.

D.C. United was undone by myriad mistakes, as the reigning Eastern Conference regular season champions fell, 5-2, in Costa Rica.

The disaster started virtually from the get-go, as the Costa Rican side put D.C. United on the back foot from the opening whistle. The pressure pushed D.C. United to crack in the 15th minute when goalkeeper Andrew Dykstra conceded a penalty and picked up a yellow card for a foul in the box, allowing Alajuelense’s Ariel Rodríguez to finish from the spot.

The hosts scored again seven minutes later through Jose Ortiz, before Fabian Espindola gave D.C. United hope with a headed finish just two minutes later.

That hope lasted all of two minutes, as Dykstra made another mistake, as the goalkeeper, starting for the injured Bill Hamid, spilled a cross into the path of Johan Venegas to make the score 3-1.

Ortiz added his second goal of the night early in the second half to push the score to 4-1, but D.C. United appeared to have a lifeline late after Steve Birnbaum added his first professional goal in the 88th minute.

However, D.C. United was once again snakebitten by yet another mistake, as Birnbaum himself provided Alajuelense with the fifth and final goal. The U.S. Men’s National Team defender’s giveaway paved the way for a finish from Jonathan McDonald, sealing the dominant victory for the Costa Ricans.

Despite picking up two normally-crucial away goals, D.C. United will need to win by at least three in the home leg at RFK Stadium, which is set for March 4.

What did you think of Thursday’s result? Does D.C. United have any chance of coming back?

Share your thoughts below.


  1. so everything i have read about this game is that DCU was not in the fitness OR the form to compete. the form part makes sense given the timing of this. but the fitness? yet more proof that JK’s comments were not BS and that too many players are not preparing well enough. obviously there was much more to this game than just fitness, but i was shocked at the lack of it. very disappointing result.

  2. DC was absolute crap, but it’s hardly surprising. This happens almost every year in the knock out rounds. MLS teams are coming out of preseason (DC’s last competitive game was in Oct. 2014), whereas the Mexican and Central American teams are mid-season. It’s like Groundhog Day, really. It’s the same story over and over again: MLS teams fail this competition because our schedule is not synced with the FIFA schedule.

    • What’s more important — doing well in this competition or playing games in decent weather in the US (and presumably attracting more fans to American soccer)?
      I am not ruling out a different schedule for MLS. After all the Russians play a schedule that is allegedly aligned with the FIFA schedule. Nonetheless, US soccer has to consider its priorities carefully. I would always put improving American soccer — both developing more and better players and making competitive professional games available to as many Americans as possible — at the top of the list.

    • A couple of years ago RSL got into the finals and only needed a 0-0 draw at home to win it all, but lost 1-0 at home. So, they were able to get through the quarters and semis. The group stages begin during the Mexican off season but their teams usually manage to win their groups. A lot of excuses and some are valid, but losing 5-2? There’s no excuse for that. How can anyone outside of MLS look at that score and have any respect for the league? It’s embarrassing is what it is and the league won’t get any respect overseas as long as they get these kind of results, no matter the reason.

      • Frankly I don’t think we should care what foreigners think about US soccer. I am sure that it would take something like the Second Coming to get English soccer fans to take US soccer seriously. We need to focus on things like the number of professional places, at all levels, available to US players, the pay and benefits offered to US soccer players (most folks won’t pursue this as a hobby), the quality of stadia, the organization of the whole soccer structure in the US and so on.

  3. Excuses, excuses, enough.

    Just admit at Alajuelense was a better team! They were flying through the DC defense with ease while DC was struggling to get Espindola and Pontius anything up top.

    I liked how Olsen put in attackers when he was down 3-1, but that toally back fired on him. 4-2 would have been okay but the back line was caught sleeping again. Now they got to win 3-0; dont see that happening.

    Easy to dismiss CA teams but this is the club who elimated Cruz Azul this year and America last year. Going in there with a backup goalie and a back line still in vacation mode was not a good idea! The two goals were nice tho

    • Excuses, excuses, enough.

      Just admit at Alajuelense was a better team!

      I can’t speak for everyone, but I don’t think people are intentionally trying to diminish Alajuelense. It’s more of a, “If we’re going to consistently/realistically challenge in this competition, what are some issues preventing?” conversation.

  4. I stooped telling people to watch these games because every time I did and MLS team got embarrassed. For those talking about preseason explain to me where the other 3 mls teams that entered this competition are. It isn’t only about preseason, we had teams eliminated during the group stage which was in the middle of the season. Enough with the excuses

  5. MLS teams completing in CONCACAF need extra spending (like an extra $300k in salary cap), MLS teams need to play outside their terrorities (tour Centrel America or South America), mod the DP rules: I agree Espindola deserve pay raise but Espndola doesn’t deserve to be DP, why not raise max to $650k! end MLS season a bit later, and pre-season earlier for teams in Champions league.

    Negative results = less TV ratings for MLS. Barca already makes more TV income than entire MLS teams put together, in U.S.A. MX’s ratings destroys MLS’s rating, in the U.S., with more U.S. sponsorship than MLS teams. MX knows stars brings TV ratings and sponsors = more money!

    • I will repeat my idea again. The salary cap should be doubled and MLS teams should be allowed to take one of their DP slots and use that money toward their salary cap if they want to. So, you take the average cost of a DP and add it to their salary cap so that a team can get 5 players at $500k if they want instead of one at $2.5 million (or whatever the average is).

      • Standards for DP are too low, and 500k is too low for DP starting salary.
        MLS needs to brings well known players perform higher standards like: some South Americans in MX or higher performers with their national team, above average players top European leagues. Union signing of the “Chamo” player is a good gamble. Note: MX has majority Ecuadorian national team.

        Note: Zusi, Besler, Alonso, Wondo and Espndola are DP’s but aren’t DP quality and are unknown for new TV markets.

  6. What’s your goal for MLS? Strong clubs regardless of where the players come from or a vehicle for improving American soccer players? The two are somewhat at odds with each other. I would opt for building American soccer through developing better American soccer players and therefore I am not concerned with losses to Mexican teams at this point. Mexican soccer has been operating at a higher level for some time. Their player base is bigger and their payrolls are more generous. At some point in the future, if MLS management keeps its eye on the ball, so to speak, American clubs with American players will be able to compete in this tournaments.

    • American soccer players get better by playing better competition. MLS get more competitive by bringing in better players. This requires bringing in foreign players. The US pool is deeper than it used to be, but it isn’t deep enough. Even the Bundesliga has a lot of foreign players, as do all the top leagues. And this was a loss to a Costa Rican team, not a Mexican one. I wonder what their payroll is like.

      • Folks like the idea that bringing in foreigners raising the quality of play. Frankly I am not convinced. Lots of foreigners aren’t any better at soccer than Americans are. Many of the foreign players that MLS teams have signed recently are attractive because they are cheap — many from Central America or Africa — where salaries are no higher than they are in MLS and not because they play wonderful soccer that Americans ought to emulate. And some of the foreigners from supposedly top leagues have used MLS as a transition to retirement. Does anyone think that Beckham improved the overall level of play in MLS? But, in any case, no one, certainly not me, is suggested that all foreigners be banned (as countries like Spain and Italy used to do).
        There is, however, lots of evidence that allowing a lot of foreigners into your top league can inhibit the development of local players. Thus the English FA has destroyed whole forests producing recommendations about how to get young English players more playing time in the face of the Premiership’s increasing reliance on foreign players.
        A half dozen or so foreigners (players not eligible for the US national team) out of a 25 man roster seems about right to me.
        Nonetheless the basic point is that US soccer has to stay focused — on developing the game in this country and not just fielding teams of cheap foreigners because it is easier or whatever.

  7. Montreal went to Mexico well before their match and trained and played quality opposition to get ready and get up to game speed. This lopsided loss is not an MLS issue this is a DC United issue. Montreal is in a position to knock a Mexican club out of the competition. That would leave one Mexican team in the competition. Which most people consider the best league in the region.

    The first leg results look like the final 4 could be 1 team from Honduras, 1 team from Costa Rica, 1 team from Mexico and 1 team from MLS. I hardly would consider that the end of the world for the MLS. Relax folks it is competition and someone has to lose.

    • The first paragraph is the most important point. One MLS team took the competition more seriously, did extra work, made extra preparations, and lo and behold, they had a better performance. The other did not.

      I’m getting a little sick of the “MLS is in pre-season” excuse. These matches have been on the calendar for months. This competition is by far the most important thing regarding the image of the quality of MLS. The teams that get to the quarters should have front offices willing to put out some extra resources to get ready, the players should have the pride to cut their offseason short and push harder to get in shape earlier to be ready. Just frustrating as an MLS fan.

      • All true. Both the individual teams and the league as a whole (perhaps via some extra cap space?) have to take concrete steps to improve MLS’s chances at this stage. DC had plenty of time to plan for this; did they take full advantage of it?

    • “This lopsided loss is not an MLS issue this is a DC United issue.”

      I’d get even more specific. The lopsided loss is not a DC United issue, it’s an Andrew “let’s gift them 3 goals” Dykstra issue.

      (yes, I realize having Dykstra on the roster is itself both a DC United and and MLS issue, but this game and the reaction look much different if Dykstra is semi-competent)

  8. It’s unrealistic for us to have a legitimate shot against clubs already in season/form. This is one of the many reasons discussion of a longer MLS season (and one that starts sooner) has merit.

      • I’m in Chicago, of all places, and I understand the dilemma. I’ll grant weather conditions are less than ideal in some climates but there are alternatives: i.e. a winter break.

      • Or Chicago, KC, maybe Denver… But you can get around that with creative scheduling. Basically only have the games in the colder months in California, Texas, and Florida and possibly the NW. You wouldn’t want to schedule games in the NE, Toronto, Chicago, Denver, Columbus, Montreal, KC, and SLC.

        Not sure if it’s logistically possible but that’s the best I could think of.

      • A winter break is not ideal, but most likely the only alternative. Playing your games only in the south and west just isn’t feasible. Issue with a winter break is that it would take a significant break – basically Halloween until Easter.

  9. these comments are kind of funny.

    i was surprised to see 5 goals scored against dc, but only because i was assuming they would lose 1-0, or maybe get lucky with a scoreless draw, because that’s usually how ben olsen approaches these games. the fact that they got 2 away goals is a nice surprise.

    however, this is not some CRAZY scoreline. this was dc’s first competitive game in 4 months, and they really haven’t been playing well for the last 6 months or so. on top of that, they didn’t have their best player (hamid), who is also their most important player, considering their lack of goalscorers besides espindola.

    and yes, as much as i hate to see it, mls teams do not take this competition seriously.

    • “they didn’t have their best player (hamid), who is also their most important player” *by far*, meant to say.

      it’s not unusual for a team’s best player to be the most important player, but hamid’s importance for dc is like de gea’s for man u.

      • I like Ben Olsen but sometimes his experience as a player actually hurts him. He never has his team ready to play a full 90 at the beginning of most seasons and teams can’t get away with not being 100% fit from day one anymore. He needs to have a conversation with Peter Vermes about style of play and fitness. If you aren’t fit you can’t play, just ask Jorge Claros who is a Honduran international who just got sent packing because he wasn’t fit to go a full 90 minutes.

      • i don’t think olsen’s the greatest manager (although we’ll always love him), but i also don’t think he’s to blame for players being out of shape. for the most part, they’re grown ass men (hi eddie!)–if they’re out of shape when they’re competitive games start, that’s on them.

        and my comment about preseason was more that it takes a little time for a team to get up to the speed of thought and movement of competitive games after a long layoff–it wasn’t about individual fitness levels.

      • I agree with what you are saying, the players have to be accountable, but I think it’s a culture and environment Olsen has to put around the players. Other quality teams don’t have the same problem DCU does when it comes to being fit and psychologically ready to start the season.

      • Not saying fitness wasn’t an issue, but is it Ben Olsen’s fault that Dykstra gifted Alajeulense 3 goals? The result looks a lot different if United have a semi-competent keeper back there.

      • The goalkeeper situation was not Olsen’s fault but the through balls and defenders losing their marks because they weren’t focused falls into the category of he didn’t have the team prepared mentally/physically for this away leg. A prime example is when Birnbaum heads in a goal near the end of the game to make it 4-2, then one minute later he loses his mark and allows a goal that essentially put the nail in the coffin to make it 5-2.

        When you play on the road in CCL you have to be focused, smart and aggressive for the whole match or you are going to get burned. A team’s mentality is a reflection of their coach and it seemed like DCU were playing for a draw and whenever you aim for mediocrity that’s ultimately what you end up getting.

  10. I’m glad we have the MLS and hope the league grows, but watching MLS play in comparison to other leagues tells you all you need to know. It takes time; it takes passion.

    • It’s not a snap judgment, and it’s not based on last night’s result.

      Year after year, failure after failure against Mexican and other Central American teams in CCL show that MLS is a subpar league.

      Maybe a lockout and the end of this league is a blessing in disguise…I know it won’t happen, I know the players will cave, but here’s to hoping…

      • “It’s not a snap judgment, and it’s not based on last night’s result.”

        it’s not? weird, i must’ve missed all these comments on the pachuca-montreal post.

      • Year after year we enter the quatrerfinals in pre-season form against teams in mid-season form. The results are not reflective of league quality, they are reflective of the MLS schedule. This doesn’t happen to a mid-season DCU team. And lets not forget that two of the five goals were squarely on Dykstra. I’m not worried.

      • “Maybe a lockout and the end of this league is a blessing in disguise…I know it won’t happen, I know the players will cave, but here’s to hoping…”

        I couldn’t agree more. If there’s one thing we should do to help grow the game here in the US, it’s abolish the professional league.

        You should touch base with Sunil Gulati and see if US Soccer has an opening for an unencumbered free thinker like yourself.

  11. That was painful to watch. I’m tired of seeing our teams lose badly to Mexican or other concacaf teams. How can people say MLS is top 10 league when they lose to these teams consistently? We aren’t even the top league in our region. What’s the excuse preseason? What about when you hear, we are saving players for league play. That team was on a losing streak. Fine your in preseason, but do you have to give up 5 goals? Kemp and the goalie were really bad. Mls in international competitions are so frustrating to watch.

    • I agree with most of your observations and share your frustration. MLS should be more competitive in this competition. That being said, the fact these teams are in their preseason is a tremendous factor that really shouldn’t be ignored. Yeah, you’d like to think they shouldn’t concede 5 goals, but when a team is playing it’s first competitive match of the year against an equally (or more talented) club, on the road, with everything to play for, crazy things are going to happen. That’s what makes Montreal’s performance the other night so impressive.

    • One of the major issues last night was the gross disparity in in-game experience and chemistry. DCU hasn’t played a “competitive” game yet (pre-season tournaments in Texas for an Armadillo trophy is cute, but hardly the first leg of an international competition).

      The Costa Rican side is in the middle of their season and it showed tremendously. Their speed, fitness, and chemistry was on full display. Until we can figure out how to prepare our sides well in advance of this first leg stage, we will continue to lag behind in the tournament.

      • The showed a stat last night that since Matchday 6 of the group stage on October 21st DCU has played 3 competitive matches to Alajuelense’s 22!

        Throw in a goalie making his first start in a tough environment and it is not surprising to see a 5-2 result.

        Wish they could figure out a way to make the CCL group stage start in late March and the knockout rounds in August or September.

        Loved seeing United’s traveling support but have to give it up for Alajuelense’s fans. They deserved that night. Hope United’s home crowd will show up for leg 2 and perhaps watch a great comeback!

  12. I guess I’m not surprised DCU lost, but yikes. Willis is better than Dykstra, a shame management didn’t realize this. Here’s hoping Hamid is back.

    Arnaud, Kemp and Rolfe had tough times. However, if there was a better keeper back there, DCU would be fine next week.


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