United draw in Champions League opener

WASHINGTON -- D.C. United were stymied on home soil in the opening match of their CONCACAF Champions League campaign on Tuesday night, as El Salvador's CD L.A. Firpo dug out a 1-1 draw at RFK Stadium in the first match of their two-leg qualifier.An early miscue handed the Salvadorans a precious away goal and while D.C. captain Jaime Moreno pulled back a leveler from the penalty spot before halftime, Firpo kept United on the back foot, defending stoutly in the second half and nearly stealing a win on several late counterattacks.D.C. coach Tom Soehn made sweeping changes to the side that drew 2-2 in San Jose in league play over the weekend, with only three players carried over from Saturday's first XI. Greg Janicki anchored a new-look back line as Dejan Jakovic slotted in at right back for the first time in months, while Avery John took over from Marc Burch at left back and Milos Kocic got the nod at goalkeeper.Further upfield, Danny Szetela was handed his first-ever United start alongside Andrew Jacobson and John DiRaimondo in the heart of midfield as Moreno paired with Ange N'Silu up top.Spearheaded by striker Mario Benitez, Firpo showed little respect for their North American hosts, taking the game to United from the outset and enjoying superior possession in the opening stages.Disaster struck the home side after 25 minutes as Firpo cashed in on a critical defensive error. Janicki gave away possession with an ill-advised long pass for Moreno that was cut out at midfield, only to redeem himself by quickly intercepting a Firpo through ball at the top of the D.C. box.But the big center back immediately put himself in trouble all over again when he tried to cut past Benitez, allowing the Colombian to poke the ball from under his feet and advance into the box alone, where he drilled a left-footed finish past Kocic and off the base of the right post to give the Salvadoran side a shock 1-0 lead.The visitors were rapidly growing in confidence and right back Christian Sanchez showed off some fancy footwork to spin past Devon McTavish and Szetela before drawing a save from Kocic with a drive from range.Soehn gave a hint of his frustration with the match's course when he yanked off striker Ange N'Silu after just 40 minutes and inserted Luciano Emilio in his place.But the Black-and-Red finally caught a break just a minute later when Christian Sanchez chopped Wallace down at the top corner of the Firpo box as the Costa Rican-born winger flew past him in pursuit of a through ball, prompting Mexican referee Paul Delgadillo to whistle for a penalty kick.Moreno stepped up to take the spot kick and Gomez guessed correctly, diving to his left, but the Bolivian legend stroked his finish beyond the Firpo netminder's reach into the side netting to draw United level at 1-1.Despite the equalizer, Firpo were surely elated at the possibility of a first-leg draw and their players showed little hesitation to linger on the turf and receive treatment after physical contact. But the gamesmanship finally drew Delgadillo's ire when defender Carlos Monteagudo was stretchered off in first-half injury time, only to pop back to his feet immediately after leaving the field -- earning a yellow card for his troubles.Soehn made further alterations to his side for the second stanza, replacing Jakovic with playmaker Christian Gomez, and the Argentinean's presence bolstered the Black-and-Red's attacking fluidity as D.C. probed the Salvadorans' back line with greater menace as the half unfolded.But Firpo frontrunner Edgar Leguizamon nearly created his team's second goal just shy of the hour mark, leaving McTavish in his wake as he raced to the byeline and drove a teasing low cross through the D.C. goal area. But he was disappointed to see the ball roll through the danger zone as none of his teammates could reach it to deliver the final touch.Moreno was working hard to save his side's blushes and his excellent run down the right teed up Emilio for a near-post header that whistled inches wide of the target. D.C.'s Bolivian star tried unsuccessfully to find the far post with two low shots before making way for Chris Pontius, as Soehn looked to save some legs for his team's upcoming league trip to Houston.Firpo midfielder Dennis Alas, who spent part of last season with local USL-2 side Real Maryland, uncorked a booming drive from more than 30 yards out that stung Kocic's fingers and nearly trickled past him into the net, only for the rookie netminder to recover just in time.In the 70th minute Pontius hustled to the Firpo endline and swept a dangerous cross across the face of goal that rolled to his roommate Wallace at the far post, but the winger saw his goalbound drive blocked at close range as United was denied again.Firpo defended deeper and more desperately as time ticked away and Jacobson should have done better with his 18-yarder some seven minutes from full time, drilling wide right after Emilio teed him up. But Leguizamon continued to pose a threat on the counterattack and he almost delivered the knockout blow on a cross to Herbert Antonio Barrera, who snapped his header just wide.Some slick interplay down the D.C. left led to a glorious chance for Gomez in the final minute of regulation, but his shot never reached its intended destination as the men in white conjured up another crucial block.Avery John was cautioned -- and might have been lucky not to be ejected -- as he broke up another Firpo counterattack at the top of the D.C. box in added time, and Alas slammed another stinging blast into the United wall on the ensuing free kick.SCORING SUMMARY LAF: Mario Alejandro Benitez (unassisted) 26DCU: Jaime Moreno (penalty kick) 42 MISCONDUCT SUMMARY LAF: Carlos Monteagudo (caution; Dissent) 50DCU: John DiRaimondo (caution; Reckless Tackle) 68DCU: Avery John (caution; Tactical Foul) 91+Referee: Paul DelgadilloReferee's Assistants: Marvin Torrentera; Alejandro Ayala4th Official: Alex PrusTime of Game: 90:00Weather: Partly Cloudy-and-87 degreesAttendance: 8,026