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United falters again, falls to Toluca

D.C. United's CONCACAF Champions League hopes took a major hit on Wednesday night as the Black-and-Red crashed to a 3-1 home defeat at the hands of Mexican powerhouse Toluca FC at RFK Stadium.United showed laudable spirit to claw back an equalizer after a tepid first-half display sent them into the locker room down 1-0, but their brief second-half revival was not enough to overcome Toluca's attacking quality as the Diablos Rojos rode a second-half double from Hector Mancilla to maintain a perfect record in Group B play.D.C. boss Tom Soehn significantly altered his lineup from Saturday's 0-0 league draw with Los Angeles, making eight changes to his first XI, and for the second consecutive Champions League match United departed from their usual 3-5-2 formation in favor of a 4-4-2 shape.Julius James and Marc Burch partnered in the center of D.C.'s four-man back line, flanked by David Habarugira and Avery John, and a new-look midfield featured two defensive-minded players, Clyde Simms and Andrew Jacobson, in the center as striker Jaime Moreno routinely dropped deep to coordinate possession.Meanwhile Toluca left hitman Nestor Calderon -- one of the Primera Division's leading lights this year -- on the bench while Martin Romagnoli was tasked with pulling the strings in midfield.But United stumbled out to a disastrous beginning, gifting their Mexican visitors a goal just five minutes after the kickoff. An angled through ball towards Toluca's Vladimir Marin lacked the pace to get behind Habarugira, but the Burundi international, whose English skills are limited, got his signals crossed with Josh Wicks, letting the ball go as the D.C. goalkeeper raced off his line.Seemingly distracted by the proximity of Habarugira and Marin, the sliding Wicks allowed the ball to carom off his chest and it popped up nicely for Marin, who tapped a simple finish into the unguarded net to hand the Diablos Rojos a priceless early lead.The goal clearly deflated United, while Toluca, keyed by Romagnoli, settled into a comfortable rhythm of passing and possession that left their hosts chasing the ball for long stretches. Moreno labored valiantly to create some danger in the attacking end, but he was usually left a lonely figure as the Mexicans' back line collapsed around him whenever he gained possession.Searching for a way to spark his listless-looking side, Soehn shuffled the deck as the first half wore on, switching wingers Ely Allen and Devon McTavish from one side to the other and moving Burch out to left back as John tucked into the center.But the D.C. defense was caught napping once again in the 33rd minute when Edgar Duenas was left all alone to meet a booming cross towards Wicks' back post. The Toluca defender directed his downward header to the wrong side of the woodwork, however, merely rippling the outside of the netting.Soehn then tried an early substitution, yanking off Allen to insert Fred in the left midfield slot. But the Black-and-Red continued to misfire, with pass after pass missing its target, and the half's futility was summarized by the recurring sight of United players with the ball at their feet, waving their arms as they waited for passing options.Soehn rolled the dice again at halftime, bringing on Santino Quaranta for Moreno up top, but the decision to remove one of United's few effective first-half performers came up trumps when Quaranta set up a sudden equalizer mere moments into the second stanza.After misjudging Jacobson's far-post cross, Quaranta chased the loose ball into the far corner and curled a teasing delivery into the goal box, where Chris Pontius showed bravery and athleticism to lunge between two red jerseys and nod a bullet header into the net past goalkeeper Hernan Cristante.Just as Marin's early tally had inspired the visitors in half one, Pontius' leveler restored precious life to the United cause and the RFK faithful returned to full voice as their team upped the tempo in search of the lead.Soehn used his final substitution to bring Bryan Namoff in for the tiring Habarugira, but what looked like a conservative defensive change turned out to be something more as D.C. returned to something closer to their typical 3-5-2 shape with Namoff occupying a more advanced role on the right wing.The move helped keep United on the front foot and both Burch and Quaranta tried to threaten Cristante's goal on set piece opportunities. But the home side's rally was stopped in its tracks by a flash of pure quality from Mancilla in the 79th minute.Surging into the D.C. box, the Toluca frontrunner showed clinical technique to turn Burch inside-out with a series of quick touches before stroking a low finish just inside the far post to put the Diablos Rojos back in front.By now, Calderon had entered the fray, and moments after Mancilla's strike he brought an excellent save from Wicks, who stretched to parry the Mexican's well-hit drive away from the upper corner of the net.The game was pulsing from end to end by the latter stages of the second half, with fans of both sides screaming lustily, but the Toluca supporters had more to cheer about when Calderon and Mancilla combined to seal the result in the late going. Calderon's left-wing run took him past Namoff to the endline and an unlucky Julius James deflected the ball past John and right into the path of Mancilla at the far post, who applied the easy tap-in to secure all three points.SCORING SUMMARY
TOL: Vladimir Marin (unassisted) 5DCU: Chris Ponitus (Santion Quaranta) 47TOL: Hector Mancilla (unassisted) 79TOL: Hector Mancilla (Nestor Calseron) 85MISCONDUCT SUMMARY
DCU: David Habarugira (caution) 48TOL: Edgar Duenas (caution) 89TOL: Miguel Alzaman (caution) 90Referee: Courtney CampbellReferee's Assistants: Anthony Garwood, Kedlee Powell 4th official: Baldomero ToledoTime of game: 1:56Attendance: 8,834