DC United's Fabian Espiondola shoots past the Crew's Steve Clark to give United the lead. Photo: Martin Fernandez.

United extends unbeaten run to six after 2-0 victory over Columbus

Washington, D.C., May 2, 2015 – To say D.C. United missed Fabian Espindola through their first six MLS league matches is an obvious understatement after his dazzling performance tonight in D.C. United’s 2-0 victory over the Columbus Crew SC tonight at RFK Stadium.

Espindola, making his home debut for United this season, had a goal (above photo: Martin Fernandez) and an assist to lead United to their fifth victory in eight matches on the young season. United (5-1-2, 17 points) extended their unbeaten run to 6 games this season and unbeaten in 14 games going back to June of last year. Columbus (3-3-2, 11 points) remains in fourth place in Eastern Conference while United sits atop the division.

Despite giving up the territorial edge thru the first quarter hour of the match, it was United who struck first on a lightning-quick  counter attack in the 15th minute.  Chris Rolfe picked up a clearance from a Crew SC corner kick and bolted upfield. Rolfe’s pinpoint pass found Espindola in alone behind the Crew defense and the Argentine sniper easily beat goalkeeper Steven Clark for his first goal of the season.

Just three minutes later Espindola should have doubled the advantage but it was Clark’s turn to make the big play by stopping Fabi at point-blank range.

In the 41st minute Espindola made up for the close miss when he became provider for Sean Franklin’s back post tap-in on a corner kick to put the Black-and-Red up by 2-0. Espindola’s curling ball drifted past everyone in the penalty area and hit Franklin all alone for the easy side-footed finish into the empty net.

After the break the visitors understandably took it to United and nearly cut the lead in half when Federico Higuain’s  diving header when inches wide of the near post in the 53rd minute. After that narrow miss, United started to grab a better foothold of the match and nearly extended the lead to 3-0 in the 63rd minute when Chris Korb set Chris Pontius free down the left flank. Pontius’ cross into the goalmouth was scrambled out by the Columbus defense just a fraction before United substitute Michael Farfan could poke it into the goal.

That defensive effort seemed to energize the Crew as they nearly scored twice in quick succession. The first chance came via a lazy turnover from United in the offensive half of the field that set Columbus on their own lightning-quick counter. Kei Kamara’s pass behind the retreating United defense almost found the sliding foot of Ethan Finlay but the chance went begging. Seconds later Kristinn Steindorrsson’s volley shaved just wide of the far post.

Columbus, who dominated possession most of the evening while United were perfectly happy to sting on the counter, continued to apply the pressure and pinned United down in their own end for essentially the last fifteen minutes of the match. However, as has been the case for most of this young season, United fended off the late surge and did what they failed to do in their last two home matches – close out the match.

United will now turn their attention to their match against Sporting Kansas City at RFK next weekend.

United Notes

  •  Bill Hamid returned to the lineup and picked up his fourth shutout in six games. Before that on Friday Hamid signed a multi-year extension on his contract that will reportedly pay him approximately $350,000 per season according to multiple sources. Hamid was in the final year of his contract that he signed as a Homegrown Player in 2010.

United win game, but lose series to rivals Red Bull

D.C. United may have won the battle today, but they lost the war against their most bitter rivals in New York Red Bull.

D.C.’s 2-1 win this afternoon was not enough to overturn a two-goal deficit from their encounter last weekend at Red Bull Arena and the Red Bulls advance to the Eastern Conference final with their 3-2 aggregate win over United.

It was not without some discomfort however as United took the lead in the 37th minute when Nick DeLeon met Taylor Kemp’s sublime cross from the left flank to give the Black-and-Red the 1-0 lead. The aggregate was now down to 2-1 in favor of the visitors and United were looking to complete the comeback. With a season-high crowd of 20,187 on hand at RFK, United nearly leveled the series in the 53rd minute when Fabian Espindola’s diving header went inches wide of the far post.

The game, and essentially the series was over just a few minutes later when Peguy Luyindula poked home an equally impressive cross from Thierry Henry to level the score at 1-1. With that valuable away goal, it now forced United to score three more times to win the series outright due to the newly-added playoff scenario. With United failing to score a road goal in their 2-0 loss last weekend, any goal from Red Bull would eliminate any extra-time scenarios and would force United to win the aggregate series.

With that knowledge in mind, United threw everything at Red Bull and thought they did get the game-winning goal from Sean Franklin in stoppage time, it was not nearly enough as United’s magical run from worst-to-first came to frustrating end.

The frustration boiled over for United as Espindola was shown a red card after the final whistle for a clear shove of the assistant referee, the same assistant referee who was in the middle of the controversy surrounding Red Bull’s game-tying goal. A ball along the sideline right in front of the Red Bull bench appeared to have crossed the line but the assistant waved play on. Just a few seconds later United were pulling the ball out of their own net and were staring at the end of their season. Espindola, about as emotional a player can be in this league, lashed out at the assistant referee and was shown a yellow card by the matches referee Ismail Elfath for his badgering of the linesmen.

Espindola made a beeline towards the same referee as the final whistle blew and he lost his composure and shoved the linesmen before team officials could pull him away. Not only will Espindola be suspended for United’s season opener in 2015, one can expect a multiple game suspension for his actions as well.

That incident alone however can not tarnish the job Ben Olsen and his staff did in helping turnaround the single-worst season by an MLS club in league history in 2013. United defied the odds and finished at the top of the Eastern Conference as well as advance to the knockout stages of the CONCACAF Champions League next February as well as gain entry into the 2015-2016 version of that same tournament which will begin in July of 2015.

The question now is what will this team look like in 2015? No doubt United will lose a player or two in the upcoming Expansion Draft, but they will also need to fill some holes in and around the squad and will need to look at reopening the pocketbook to bring in more expensive and effective players that can get this squad to the next level.

Kudos to D.C. United for an unexpected and exhilarating 2014 season. We are all looking forward to 2015.

Eddie Johnson

If I Had the Wings of an Eagle

DC United’s “worst to first” story is over. After 34 games, it’s time for second season. That’s right, playoffs.

During the dog days of the season, the major question for the Black and Red heading into playoff time was the striker position. Would it be an in-form Luis Silva, or the designated player Eddie Johnson starting alongside Fabian Espindola? Due to an ill-timed injury in Houston, it is Eddie Johnson that will lead the line on Sunday next to Fabi. Photo: Martin Fernandez.

Now, the major question in DC’s lineup comes from a position that has been locked down for the majority of the season: out wide on the wings. For most of the 2014 season, Chris Rolfe on the left and Nick Deleon on the right was the go-to pairing for DCU. However, Rolfe’s broken arm and the emergence of several other contenders for the wide position raise an interesting selection dilemma for Ben Olsen.

Heading into Sunday’s game against either Sporting Kansas City or the New York Red Bulls, Olsen can choose between Chris Pontius, Chris Rolfe, Nick Deleon, Sean Franklin, or Samuel Inkoom to provide width in DC’s attack. This depth could be key to a long postseason run, especially if they continue to deal with nagging injuries. Let’s narrow down the field to the two players that give DC the best option of winning over a two game series.

Chris Rolfe

Rolfe has been a lynchpin of DC’s chance creation this season, a revelation that arrived three games into the regular season. From his favored position on the left, Rolfe has 6 goals and 6 assists in 21 appearances. His linkup play and decision making, especially on the counter attack, has been crucial for DCU.

However, the selection of the Magic Headband is not guaranteed. Coming back off of a broken arm, it is unclear whether Rolfe is ready to jump back into the starting lineup, and a playoff matchup may not be the best time to test the waters.

Chris Pontius

The return of CP13 from a series of devastating injuries feels like a new late season signing for DC. Since his return to fitness, Pontius continues to impress, especially as he continues to regain match form, fitness, and confidence- crucial for a goal-scoring player. Pontius looked shades of his old 2012 form at home against Chicago, heading home an inch perfect cross from Eddie Johnson for his first league goal of the season.

Should Rolfe not be 100% ready to go out on the left, it is very possible that Pontius will get the nod. However, should Rolfe be ready to play, it is hard to ignore his form in the 2014 campaign. Rolfe and Pontius have yet to see the field together in 2014, or ever, so it is hard to say which player would play on the left, and which on the right.

Nick Deleon

In 2014, Deleon has at times looked similar to his outstanding rookie form, and at others has been a bit frustrating. The right midfield spot belonged to DeLeon pretty much all season, and it may be harsh to drop him heading into the playoffs. So far this season, DeLeon has 2 goals and 5 assists playing out on the right.

Compared to Rolfe and Pontius, DeLeon looks a far less menacing player to opposing defenses. However, NLD also has a history of crucial postseason goals, as everyone will remember from his 2012 strike at Red Bull Arena that propelled the Black and Red past their biggest rivals and into the conference finals.

Sean Franklin

All-star right back Sean Franklin shut down Bayern Munich (along with Bill Hamid and Bobby Boswell) in this year’s MLS All Star Game. Franklin has been outstanding at the right back position this season, but Ben Olsen has been pushing him up to right midfield and slotting Chris Korb or Samuel Inkoom into the right back slot on several occasions.

The switch to right back has mostly occurred when either Perry Kitchen or Davy Arnaud is unavailable in the middle of the field and Nick Deleon is pushed into the center. While Franklin has filled in fine out wide, he has yet to look particularly menacing in the final third. With both Kitchen and Arnaud healthy and ready to go for Sunday, we should see Franklin return to his preferred spot at right back.

Samuel Inkoom

DC United’s late summer acquisition is a curious case. A young right back and right mid that saw action in two World Cups for the Black Stars of Ghana, as well as Champions League experience with Swiss powerhouse FC Basel. Olsen appears intent on playing Inkoom out on the right, and he has looked dangerous with his speed and crossing abilities. These crosses could come in handy with Eddie Johnson lurking in the box.

Despite Inkoom’s impressive CV, he hasn’t appeared to feature regularly as of yet in Olsen’s plans. As many a player will tell you, adjusting to the MLS can be difficult, and Inkoom is probably not ready to be thrown into a playoff matchup as a starting player.

It’s Down to Olsen

Ben Olsen is one of the clear frontrunners for the Coach of the Year award, and has hardly put a wrong foot forward this season with his decision-making. In the end, whoever we see on Sunday in the wide positions will come down to the man who just recently signed a new long term contract.

The enticing option would be to throw Rolfe and Pontius out for the first time and see if they can both hit a run of form at the right time. However, as previously mentioned, Rolfe and Pontius have yet to play together for DC. On top of that, they have both been used out on the left. In order to play together, one of these attacking players would have to shift over to the right, where Nick Deleon has seen the majority of the action this season.

On Sunday, I expect to see either Rolfe or Pontius in their usual left midfield position. Due to recent form, I would give Pontius the nod on Sunday- with Rolfe likely to be used as an impact substitute. On the right, expect to see Franklin back at the right back position with Nick Deleon playing in front of him.

This is a good problem to have, and none of these players are bad options. But this is playoff time, and Olsen has to go with what is currently working. There is very little time to experiment in this phase of the season. Should a new experiment go wrong, DC could find their worst to first run ending in an early playoff exit.

United crush league-leaders FC Dallas 4-1

Fabian Espindola scored twice and set up another goal in D.C. United’s 4-1 dismantling of league-leading FC Dallas tonight at RFK Stadium. Photo: Tony Quinn.

Bobby Boswell and Sean Franklin also scored for United as they put their collective foot on the pedal and rolled past the visitors from Texas. The win helps United jump into a temporary tie at the top of the Eastern Conference with Toronto FC and Sporting Kansas City. Toronto FC has the weekend off while Sporting is on the road in New England. United is also on a five-game unbeaten run since losing their first two matches of the season.

FC Dallas opened the scoring against the run of play in the 13th minute with a beautiful combination play that left the Black-and-Red helpless. Striker Fabian Castillo cut in from the left flank and found Blas Perez just inside the area. The big Panamanian one-timed his pass to the onrushing Mauro Diaz and his fake at the top of the area cleared his path towards goal and left Bill Hamid with no chance and FC Dallas was ahead 1-0.

However, the tone of the match completely changed when FC Dallas defender Zach Loyd was shown a second yellow card and subsequent red card after his studs up challenge on Davy Arnaud in the 39th minute. Unlike last week when United went up a man in the 81st minute with the lead against Columbus, United made the opposition pay with a beautiful equalizer in first-half stoppage time. Nick DeLeon (team-leading 3 assists so far this season) slipped a pass to Eddie Johnson on the right wing and his inch-perfect whipped cross met Espindola at the back post and his header leveled the match at 1-1 just as the half came to a close.

After the restart, it was all United as they held a 68-32% possession advantage. Already down a man, FC Dallas was forced to bunker in and try to keep United at bay. Defending is not exactly the forte of FC Dallas and United made them pay in a big way. Eddie Johnson came off with a slight hamstring twinge but it did not slow down the Black-and-Red. United took the lead in the 60th minute after some good work along the end line by Espindola. His cross was met by a wicked side volley from substitute Conor Doyle but former University of Maryland goalkeeper Chris Seitz did well to save the blast but it landed right into the path of Boswell and his left-footed shot ripped the net to give United the 2-1 lead.

Not done just yet with their barrage United increased the lead to 3-1 in the 64th minute on one of the prettiest plays by United at RFK in a long long time. Espindola managed to somehow juke his way through two FC Dallas defenders and made his way towards goal along the end line. His chipped cross into the goal mouth was met with a perfectly timed left-footed side foot finish by Franklin and the game for all intents and purposes was over.

United were not done however and added a fourth goal in the 69th minute. Chris Rolfe’s hard work along the left flank opened up a sliver of space in the penalty area for Espindola. The Argentine received the pass with his favored left foot and popped it forward in the air. Without hesitation Espindola laced the ball before it hit the ground and past the diving Seitz for the last goal of the game.

United, incidentally enough, beat FC Dallas 4-1 two years ago at RFK to help jump start their season. United will now have to take their new found confidence on the road to Portland next weekend when they face the desperate yet struggling Timbers. That match will be at 10:30 EST on Comcast SportsNet

United big movers in Stage One of Re-Entry Draft

D.C. United selected Sean Franklin with their top pick in Stage One of the Re-Entry Draft and also welcomed back defender Bobby Boswell to RFK after he was acquired in the second round this afternoon . United will be up first again for Stage Two of the Re-Entry Draft next Thursday.

As a result of these selections, United must pay Franklin and Boswell their previous season’s salary plus a modest increase. Reports say that Boswell is just about signed to his deal. No word just yet on Franklin’s contract situation.

Combined Franklin and Boswell’s cap hit will be for approximately $500,000 next season. However, with United acquiring a substantial amount of allocation money in the offseason, they can choose to pay down some of their salaries if they wish. I think it’s too soon to make that call as United still has a lot of work to do to acquire some International talent to add to the roster before the season begins on March 8th at home against the Columbus Crew.

It seems for the time being that Franklin and Boswell w0uld be slotted directly into defense for United at right back and central defense respectively. So what does this mean for United’s longest standing defender in Dejan Jakovic? I think Ben Olsen still has faith in Jakovic and he will remain a big part of United’s rebuilding in the offseason. This doesn’t mean that United is done shopping for defenders as United is very much in need of more quality all along the back line. While Franklin and Boswell don’t light the league on fire, they are dependable players and certain upgrades from what we saw from United in 2013.

Boswell comes back to United after being traded to Houston before the 2008 MLS season. Boswell was the MLS Defender of the Year in his sophomore season for the Black-and-Red in 2006 but quickly fell out of favor in 2007 as it seemed that off the field activities were more important than improving his on-field form. Boswell was traded for Zach Wells which became one of the more lopsided trades in recent MLS history. Boswell went on to become a mainstay in Houston’s central defense while United has struggled to fill his void since the trade.

As for Franklin, he was the MLS Rookie of the Year in 2008 for the Los Angeles Galaxy and was a consistent figure along the right side of the field in midfield and defense for the Galaxy as he helped them to secure back-to-back MLS Cups in 2011 and 2012.