- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 1, 2006

D.C. United seemed moments from putting away Columbus throughout last night’s U.S. Open Cup round of 16 match at the Maryland SoccerPlex in Germantown.

With just a slight redirection of Christian Gomez’s free kick, Jamil Walker was able to do just that in the early stages of overtime.

Walker’s quick header in the 93rd minute gave United a 2-1 lead, an edge the MLS Eastern Conference leaders preserved to ensure a berth in the quarterfinals. United will face the winner of tonight’s game between the New York Red Bulls and Wilmington (N.C.) of the United Soccer Leagues’ second division Aug. 23.

“I got behind [midfielder Eddie Gaven] and was able to flick it,” Walker said. “He played it right where I was running to. There’s not really much communication between us on the free kick. He just hits a good ball in, and I try to get under [the defense].”

Nick Rimando, making his first appearance of the year against an MLS side after recording 11 shutouts last season, made four saves in place of usual United starter Troy Perkins.

Columbus nearly tied it a few times in the closing minutes. Midfielder Ezra Hendrickson’s header sailed wide in the 119th minute, and Chris Leitch (post) and Ryan Coiner (wide right) both missed shots in stoppage time.

It was United’s first game since Saturday’s surprising loss at Real Salt Lake ended a 14-game unbeaten streak that dated to May 6. And while last night’s match didn’t count in the MLS standings, it still was indicative of how strong United likely will remain for the rest of the season.

“The last couple weeks, we did not create that many chances,” United coach Peter Nowak said. “I was really encouraged to see the creation, the invention, the play on the field and how easy it was to find a spot and create the angles and so many chances. It was pretty impressive.”

If there was anything troublesome about the performance, it was United’s inability to finish off more of those chances. United controlled the game from the start, capitalizing on a speed advantage all over the field against a Columbus squad plagued by injuries throughout the season. United owned a 32-10 advantage in shots, peppering keeper Bill Gaudette (10 saves) throughout the match.

United had solid opportunities to avoid overtime as late as stoppage time in the second half, when Gomez bolted down the right side to set up a clear shot. Instead, he fired a dart off the post, and the teams went to overtime with the possibility of an ever-capricious penalty kick shootout if it remained tied.

“I wasn’t concerned. If you create so many chances, [the question becomes] ‘Who’s going to be the hero today?’ ” Nowak said. “It was important to keeping pushing.”

United had the better of play early, but Columbus scored first. Defender Chad Marshall placed a perfect header in the left side past Rimando on midfielder Eric Vasquez’s corner kick in the 18th minute, temporarily stunning the lively crowd of 4,774, some of whom sat on a hill behind one the goals.

United countered with its own goal off a set piece three minutes later. Perched near the goalmouth, Jaime Moreno deflected Gomez’s corner kick past the sprawled out Gaudette.

United couldn’t take the lead before the half despite its unrelenting pressure and endured two near-misses just before the break. Leitch brought midfielder Ben Olsen down in the box, but no foul was called. Less than a minute later, midfielder Freddy Adu scampered around Gaudette at the edge of the box, only to watch his open shot trickle harmlessly to the right.

“It was one of those things with one more inch or one more touch,” Walker said. “It wasn’t our day for attacking. You don’t see Alecko [Eskandarian] miss those chances or I miss those chances or Christian miss those chances. If kept going and going and going, eventually we were going to get one.”

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