There was hardly anything easy about D.C. United’s third round Open Cup victory over the Richmond Kickers on Tuesday night. The hosts defended valiantly for most of the affair’s 120 minutes as extra time was needed to separate the two regional foes. After the match, head coach Ben Olsen called the affair a ‘gut check’ and seemed more relieved than exulted as he boarded a bus bound for Washington.
Though the difficulty of the Black-and-Red’s triumph wasn’t ideal, the player who ensured D.C.’s advancement was a fitting hero for such a night. Midfielder Marcelo Saragosa found himself on the receiving end of Branko Boskovic’s corner in the 107th minute and showed expert cool in beating Richmond goalie Ronnie Pascale from just a few yards out. After the goal he jumped straight into fellow countryman Maicon Santos’ open arms, providing a rare moment of joy in what has been an incredibly trying season for the Brazilian.
“[It has been] a tough year because my dad just passed away,” an emotional Saragosa said after the match. “The last two months I was in Brazil. I’m just happy to score and get a chance to help us [advance] to the next level.”
Things seemed to be going just right for Saragosa in the days prior to United’s mid-April road victory over New England. After returning to Brazil earlier in the year to tend to his ailing father, the 30-year-old felt comfortable enough to get back to work. He did so with a vengeance and was penciled in as a starter against the Revs, only to receive the devastating news of his father’s passing that Friday night.
As Saragosa hastily made his way back to Brazil, the Black-and-Red mourned his loss. In the aftermath of that come from behind win at Gillette Stadium, D.C.’s players – to a man – talked about their teammate’s grief.
On Tuesday night, they gladly shared in his joy.
“It’s amazing,” said goalkeeper Joe Willis. “He’s been through a lot, had a pretty tough year. He is an amazing guy, a positive guy, and it’s infectious. He brings that into the locker room and he puts a smile on everyone’s face.”
“We are all happy for him,” added midfielder Stephen King. “Marcelo is one of those guys that comes in every day and works hard. Maybe he is under-appreciated around the league, [but] we know his value and we love having him as one of our teammates.”
RICHMOND, Va. – On a night chock full of US Open Cup upsets, D.C. United managed to do just enough to prevent falling victim to the Richmond Kickers.
Hamdi Salihi put United on course with a goal midway through the first half, but the tie wasn’t settled at City Stadium until Marcelo Saragosa’s winner in the 107th minute.
Behind a top performance from ‘keeper Ronnie Pascale, the underdog Kickers did well to hold off the United attack, and then relied on the counterattack to create chances at the other end.
“We made a meal out of that game and we made it more difficult than it needed to be,” United manager Ben Olsen told reporters after the game. “It’s never easy to break down a team that wants to defend with the entire team and then counterattack with two quick guys.”
While Richmond succeeded in creating chances on goal, it took a penalty on the stroke of halftime to find an equalizer. After Chris Agorsor was tripped up in the box by Saragosa, Stanley Nyazamba converted to the penalty that left 45 minutes for either team to find the winner.
But as United began to turn the screw on the Kickers, Pascale began to shine for the hosts. Saves on Josh Wolff, Nick DeLeon, Andy Najar and Branko Boskovic stood out as the Black-and-Red became increasingly frustrated and could not find a decisive goal as the second half wore on.
“He’s always been good,” Olsen said of Pascale after the game. “Year after year, in particular against us, he has been a big time performer here. He is a legend here, and I’m happy that he had a good night tonight.”
The stage was ripe for a winner in extra time, and shortly after the start of the second interval, Saragosa slammed home his first goal for United to put them through to the next round against the Philadelphia Union. The Kickers failed to clear Boskovic’s corner, and the ball fell to the Brazilian Saragosa, who made no mistake from eight yards out.
“I’m happy to score and get a chance to step onto the next level,” Saragosa said after the match. “It was hard for us because we scored and then [Richmond] was fighting hard to get another [goal], but everybody helped each other and I think it’s a great win.”
Vancouver Whitecaps' Matt Watson, bottom, plays the ball away from D.C. United's Marcelo Saragosa during the first half of an MLS soccer game in Vancouver, British Columbia on Saturday March 24, 2012. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Darryl Dyck.
VANCOUVER, CANADA - MARCH 24: Sebastien Le Toux #7 of the Vancouver Whitecaps is challenged by Marcelo Saragosa #11 of D.C. United during the first half of MLS Soccer on March 24, 2012 at B.C. Place in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.