Washington, D.C., October 18, 2015 – Just in the nick of time. Better now than never. Saving the best for last. D.C. United have regained their form and any of the aforementioned cliches would be more than appropriate.
Chris Pontius’s goal late in the first half got United on their way to an eventual 4-0 win over the hapless Chicago Fire and the result pushed United from fifth place to second place in the East with only next weeks game at Columbus left in the regular season. A win in Columbus locks up the 2nd seed (New York Red Bull clinched the top spot by virtue of their 4-1 win over Philadelphia this afternoon) for the Black-and Red. A draw would also work but it also would allow Toronto FC an opportunity to squeak into the second spot if they were to win their matchup against their Eastern Canadian rivals in Montreal next weekend.
All Eastern Conference games will start at 5pm next weekend so no team will know their destiny until their matches are played to the full 90 minutes.
As for today’s critical game, it was the first time this season that United had put forth a full 90-minute performance. Part of that had to do with the apathy on display from the visiting Fire who became the sixth team in MLS history to go an entire season without a win on the road (0-12-5). Most of it however had to do with the improved confidence of United as they were coming off their stoppage-time win over NYCFC over two weeks ago.
United pushed the pace from the opening whistle and for the first time in over three months United did not concede a first half goal, a certain bugaboo that has plagued the team seemingly all season long, particularly at RFK Stadium. After an enterprising but fruitless first 20 minutes for United, the visitors started to get into the match. However it was United that got on the board first thanks in part to great hustle from Chris Rolfe and eventually Chris Pontius.
Rolfe wiggled his way through a trio of Fire defenders about 40 yards from goal and was set to unleash Pontius on goal. Fire midfielder Razvan Cocis intervened and actually pushed the ball into the path of Pontius. Pontius, who has struggle all year to get back to full fitness from nagging injuries, burst through and rounded startled Fire goalkeeper Jon Busch and finished very well from an acute angle for his third goal of the season.
United were not off the hook just yet as Bill Hamid made a save in stoppage time to keep the game at 1-0. Hamid saved brilliantly from a Jeff Larentowicz free kick and then held his breath as the ensuing corner kick was volleyed inches wide by Cocis.
After the break it was only one team on the field United finally rewarded themselves after a season of one-goal wins and matches that seemed to drag on for eternity. Rolfe nearly doubled the advantage just minutes after the restart when Busch did well to parry his free kick away. The ensuing rebound eventually found its way to Markus Halsti but his goal bound shot was blocked by teammate Kofi Opare.
United finally did get the breathing room they desired in the 67 minute. After having success early in the season on corner kicks, it had been quite a while since United had scored from one and Bobby Boswell was the beneficiary of great service from Fabian Espindola as he flicked his corner to the far post where it easily nestled into the goal for his second goal of the season.
Espindola got on the scoreboard just four minutes later when his mostly intended cross redirected off of Fire defender Lovel Palmer and caught Busch out of position at the far post to make it 3-0 to United. The goal was Fabian’s fifth of the season.
United wrapped up their scoring in the 80th minute when substitute Alvaro Saborio redirected a deflected Sean Franklin shot into the goal for his seventh goal of the season and fourth with United. Saborio has scored in back-to-back games as a substitute and may have carved out an important role for United moving forward as a late-game difference maker.
Next up for United is the season-ending match in Columbus next Sunday at 5pm. Columbus will be without their top two star players as both Kei Kamara and Federico Higuan are both yellow card suspended for the match as they both picked up senseless yellows in their surprising 2-0 win in Toronto on Saturday afternoon.