Fabian Espindola’s seventh goal of the season (above), intentional or not, was the difference maker in D.C. United’s 1-0 win over Sporting Kansas City tonight at RFK Stadium. (Photo: Martin Fernandez).
United (6-4-3 21 points) vaulted over Sporting (5-5-4 19 points) into second place in the Eastern Conference with the win, their first over their conference rivals since May 2010. United’s win also extended their unbeaten run to seven matches at RFK since dropping their season-opening game to Columbus in early March.
United, fielding a full-strength lineup thanks to the insertion back into the lineup of Eddie Johnson who’s red card from last weekend’s match against New England was rescinded midweek, took advantage of a weakened Sporting side wracked with injuries and international call ups.
Missing at least four first-team regulars, Sporting did welcome back influential defender Aurelien Collin into the lineup. Collin played in Tuesday’s 1-1 draw at home against New York Red Bull and was sorely needed with so many defenders missing from the squad. However, it did not last long as Collin appeared to re-injure his balky hamstring in the 9th minute and was forced out of the match in favor of Sporting’s only defender left on the roster, 17-year old Erik Palmer-Brown.
Palmer-Brown, rumored to have been offered a $1,000,000 transfer fee from Italian giants Juventus in the off-season, was coming off a disastrous MLS debut when he gave up a penalty kick and was ultimately red-carded against the Chicago Fire two weeks ago.
United took full advantage of the loss for Sporting and should have opened the scoring in the 18th minute when a cross from the right flank found a wide open Nick DeLeon inside the six-yard box only to see him head straight at Sporting goalkeeper Erik Kronberg.
Just one minute later United were thwarted again when DeLeon threaded a beautiful pass behind the Sporting defense and into the stride of Johnson who took a touch to improve his angle but he too was denied a goal after the Kronberg save.
Ten minutes later though Kronberg guaranteed his presence on all late-night highlight blooper reels when he horribly misplayed a “cross/shot” from Fabian Espindola. Espindola received the ball on the right flank and worked his way towards the middle of the field on his preferred left peg and spotted a run by Johnson behind the defense. Espindola drove the ball most likely with every intention of connecting with Johnson. Kronberg thought exactly the same thing but realized to his horror that he miscalculated the flight of the cross and scrambled back towards goal to no avail as the ball nestled into the left-side netting.
United gladly took the 1-0 lead into the break as the visitors were starting to gain a territorial foothold of the match.
After the break it was United who generated a few dangerous half-chances that would have been converted on another night. However, it was revealed after the match by head coach Ben Olsen that a virus that left Luis Silva and Conor Doyle out of the New England match the prior weekend, had made it’s way through the club during the week and had left his team short of fitness, as was evident by their poor finishing on the night.
Special kudos should also go to the defensive effort that United put forth against an obviously weakened Sporting lineup. Olsen remarked that despite the missing players, the energy level put forth by the visitors was amazing to watch and gave his team fits all night long with their high-pressure marking that nearly set off a few different altercations during the match.
In fact, Espindola was fortunate not to receive a straight red card in stoppage-time for a two-handed push in the chest to Benny Feilhaber right in front of match referee Jorge Gonzalez. Fortunately for Espindola and the season-high 18, 522 fans in attendance, United were able to see the remainder of the match out under heavy pressure from the visitors. Bill Hamid made a number of competent saves and kept all rebounds within arms reach to preserve his third shutout of the season and the team’s fifth overall.
United didn’t go completely unscathed in this match as substitute Alex Caskey was sent off in the 94th minute with a late tackle on defender Kevin Ellis. Additionally, midfielder Perry Kitchen will be forced to miss next weekend’s match against the Columbus Crew when he picked his fifth yellow-card of the season and has to sit out the league mandated suspension.
United will fact the Crew at 6:30pm at FedEx Field next Saturday night as part of the Spain-El Salvador doubleheader. The United match will be televised on CSN Washington.