- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 24, 2003

Ali Curtis’ hustle bailed out D.C. United last night.

United looked well on its way to getting shut out by English Premier League power Blackburn Rovers until Curtis entered the game in the 81st minute.

A Curtis slide tackle on Blackburn backup goalkeeper David Yelldell forced a deflection to Brian Carroll, who tapped the ball into an open net to tie the game in the 84th minute.

Behind Curtis’ game-saving heroics, United defeated Blackburn 1-1 (6-5) after winning the penalty-kick tiebreaker 6-5 in an international exhibition before an announced 9,452 at RFK Stadium.

United remains unbeaten (4-0-1) all time against English Premier League teams. Blackburn defender Nils-Eric Johansson missed wide right on the team’s seventh penalty kick to seal United’s victory.

The exhibition wouldn’t have gone to penalty kicks if it wasn’t for Curtis, who came on for Santino Quaranta. Yelldell nonchalantly handled a back pass and Curtis attacked. As Yelldell tried to clear the ball to the left, Curtis slid into the newly signed Yelldell which forced the deflection to Carroll sitting inside the 6-yard box. With the 21-year-old Yelldell out of the play, Carroll simply tapped the ball into an open net for the equalizer.

“I saw an opportunity to kind of close the goalie down really quickly, as quick as possible,” Curtis said. “In retrospect, he should have just cleared the ball one time, but he didn’t, he took that extra touch, and I saw the opportunity and fortunately it worked out for us.”

Blackburn was in the District for a training stint in preparation for the start of Premier League play in a few weeks. It was Blackburn’s first competition of any kind this season and the club is assimilating new players onto the team, including Yelldell, who Rovers acquired July14 from the Stuttgarter Kickers, a German Second Division team.

Yelldell, who has an American passport and is eligible for inclusion on the U.S. Olympic team, made a poor decision and it basically cost shorthanded Blackburn, which was were playing without four starters, the game.

“It’s a learning curve for [Yelldell]. He’s not used to playing at this level. He made a mistake and you learn from it,” Blackburn manager Graeme Souness said.

Rovers took a 1-0 first-half lead in the 30th minute on a goal by forward Andy Cole off a free kick. United failed to clear the ball out of the box. When the free kick came into the box, Cole initially headed the ball across the 6-yard box to Martin Taylor, who headed the ball back to Cole. Instinctively, Cole headed the ball back toward the net and beat United goalkeeper Nick Rimando to the left post.

United had its share of first-half chances. Blackburn goalkeeper Brad Friedel had a lot to do with keeping United off the board. Friedel, who is one of the top three goalkeepers in the world, made five great saves in the first half. The U.S. national team’s starting goalkeeper played 74 minutes before giving way to Yelldell.

In the sixth minute, Marco Etcheverry played a long ball from the midfield stripe to Hristo Stoitchkov streaking down the left flank. Stoitchkov took Etcheverry’s ball into the box and put a move on Friedel to the left that left the goalkeeper on his back near the top of the box and way off his line.

Wide open on the left side of the box, Stoitchkov sent a left-footed shot from 15 yards toward an empty net. Seemingly from out of nowhere, Rovers defender Martin Taylor intercepted Stoitchkov’s bid and cleared it past the endline.

Rookie Alecko Eskandarian was stymied by Friedel, who stopped golden scoring chances in 12th, 26th, and 39th minutes. In the 12th minute, Friedel stopped a 12-yard Eskandarian shot on a one-on-one breakaway. In the 26th minute, Friedel stopped a 14-yard left-footed Eskandarian volley from Stoitchkov. In the 39th minute, Stoitchkov again crossed to Eskandarian at the back post.

This time Stoitchkov’s long cross from the right sailed over Taylor’s head and from 10 yards on the left Eskandarian had his shot pushed wide of the back post by a diving Friedel.

“It showed again what this team is lacking. The opportunities were begging,” United coach Ray Hudson said.

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