With two matches remaining in the group stage of the CONCACAF Champions League, all D.C. United needed was one point in either of those games against Tauro FC of Panama to progress to the next round.
Instead, they made sure of their qualification with a comfortable 2-0 win at rain-soaked RFK Stadium on Wednesday night thanks to goals from recently-healthy stars Eddie Johnson and Chris Pontius.
The win means United are perfect through three of their four CCL fixtures, having beaten Waterhouse FC (Jamaica) twice and now Tauro, to seal their passage through the competition’s group round with one game to spare.
D.C. head coach Ben Olsen once again used the home matchup to rotate his squad heavily, with Joe Willis seeing action in goal instead of Bill Hamid while reserves like Collin Martin and Conor Shanosky saw heavy minutes from the start.
Tauro meanwhile have lost their last eight matches in the CCL and it showed, as the hosts dominated possession during the first half but had nothing to show for their efforts as chance after chance would go begging. Both Alex Caskey and Pontius — making his first start in any competition since the last game of last season — had superb chances early, but saw them both go unrewarded.
Both sides would hit the post in the first half, however. Jared Jeffrey’s stinging free kick clanged off the woodwork before Tauro hit the frame through forward Ismael Diaz on a rare attack.
The goals would come just after the halftime break, and would be scored within eight minutes of each other. Coming forward from right back, United’s Ghanaian newcomer Samuel Inkoom would swing in a brilliant cross that found Pontius in the box, and he made no mistake with the header to put United 1-0 up.
Just moments later, Johnson made his impact felt in his first appearance after three weeks out with concussion troubles. He latched onto a good backheel from former Seattle Sounders FC colleague David Estrada and powered the ball into the roof of the net. With over half an hour left, United were 2-0 ahead and seemingly cruising to another victory.
The Panamanians offered very little in the way of an attacking threat and that meant that Olsen could rest his regulars as their backups salted away the win.
The final whistle meant United’s onwards passage in the CCL was assured even with their trip to October 21 visit to Panama still to come.
That D.C. will likely rotate their squad heavily for that game, with the MLS playoffs due to commence soon after, but a fourth win could help them improve their seeding for the CCL knockout rounds, which kick off next spring and typically feature far tougher Mexican and Costa Rican opposition.
DCU — Chris Pontius (Samuel Inkoom) 48’
DCU — Eddie Johnson (David Estrada, Samuel Inkoom) 56’
D.C. United XI: Willis; Korb (Franklin HT), Opare, Shanosky, Inkoom; Porter, Martin, Jeffrey, Caskey; Pontius (Johnson 53’), Estrada.
Subs not used: Hamid, Boswell, Kitchen, Espindola, DeLeon.
Tauro FC XI: Hughes; Cordoba, Vargas, Moreno, Mena; Velez, Chamorro (Dominguez 80’), de los Rios (Gonzalez 71’), Castillo, Palma; Diaz (Zorrilla 72’).
Subs not used: Melgar, Araya, Castano, Barrow.