February 22, 2020

D.C. United Game 11 Recap: United wins and looks good doing it, 2-0 over Houston

The D.C. United squad on the field at RFK Stadium Wednesday night bore no resemblance to that which struggled through the 2013 season. That was partially due to a much changed roster, but on Wednesday, it was also due to a night of solid play, entertaining attacks, two wonderful goals, and a 2-0 victory for United over the Houston Dynamo before 8,224 in Washington.

Chris Rolfe opened the scoring in the 28th minute, as he and forward partner Fabian Espindola worked a nice 2-on-2 vs. the Houston defense. After a Lewis Neal throw-in, Espindola worked into the Dynamo defensive third, then passed the ball off to his left for Rolfe, who worked man to man against Houston defender David Horst. Rolfe made some space, moved the ball left, at which time Horst lost his balance. Rolfe then fired a low shot to the left of Houston goalkeeper Tally Hall to make it 1-0.

The duo reversed roles on United’s second goal, which came in the 63rd minute. This time, it was more individual brilliance by Espindola, who took a lead pass from Rolfe and found himself with just one marker, Horst. Again, things didn’t turn out well for the Dynamo defender, as Espindola also crossed the ball over on the dribble to his left, eluding Horst with a low shot that beat Hall to the far post to give United’s its well-deserved two-goal lead.

The attack, which was missing suspended forward Eddie Johnson (causing Rolfe to fill in), featured some smart passes, nice off-the-ball runs to get into dangerous positions, and opportunities being created from many different areas. Along with Espindola and Rolfe, midfielder Nick DeLeon had a field day, working on the ball and attacking inside the Houston penalty area. DeLeon finished the match with five shots, and while none were on goal, his presence in the offense was a welcome sight and added a nice dimension to United’s game.

There are, of course, now questions over how head coach Ben Olsen works the effective partnership of Espindola and Rolfe together with Johnson once the latter is again available for selection Saturday at New England – a match between the top two teams (as of now) in Major League Soccer’s Eastern Conference. It’d be hard to break up Espindola and Rolfe, but Johnson would be an awfully expensive substitute. All have things they can contribute to the attack. If United can find some sort of chemistry among the trio, they could be very dangerous the rest of the season. It might not be “Magic Triangle” worthy (Marco Etcheverry, Jaime Moreno, Raul Diaz Arce in the old days), but there’s decent potential there.

United had 14 shots to Houston’s six and for the most part, controlled possession. The D.C. defense wasn’t tested often, but Chris Korb stood out for his effort at right back and left back Cristian Fernandez (despite a couple more giveaways, one of which earned him a stern lecture from Jeff Parke) had a good night getting forward up the wing. Parke and Bobby Boswell weren’t heard from much, which was a good thing from a defensive standpoint. Hamid finished with three saves.

Houston had to shuffle the deck early when forward Mark Sherrod went down with an apparent injury to his left knee in the 10th minute. Sherrod was carried off and replaced by Brian Ownby. The latter, however, didn’t finish the game, after being sent off in second-half stoppage time for apparently trying to throw a punch at a United player away from the ball.

The win marked United’s first vs. the Dynamo since April 2012, a 3-2 victory at RFK. Houston later eliminated United in the Eastern Conference final, and no one wants to really think about D.C.’s cellar-dwelling 2013 season that followed. But after a performance like the one given Wednesday, there’s no reason to keep looking back. United captured three vital points in the first of a five-match stretch against Eastern opponents prior to the World Cup break in mid-June.

That run continues Saturday at New England. The Revolution (20 points) lead the East and have scored 10 goals in their last two matches, a 5-0 win over Seattle and a 5-3 victory against Philadelphia.

NOTES:  Espindola, Davy Arnaud, and Lewis Neal all were cautioned by referee Alan Kelly. None of those players are now on the brink of being suspended for another yellow card. Juan Guzman is the head referee for Saturday’s match at New England. … Entering Wednesday, Olsen was 1-7-1 as head coach of United vs. Houston. … United are 4-0-2 at RFK Stadium since falling, 3-0, to Columbus in the season opener. United’s fourth-round U.S. Open Cup match will be at 7 p.m. on June 17, either at the Rochester Rhinos (USL PRO) or at the Maryland SoccerPlex against Reading United A.C. (PDL). … Speaking of the SoccerPlex, the NWSL’s Washington Spirit rallied from 3-1 down in the second half to earn a 3-3 draw vs. Sky Blue FC Wednesday. Earlier in the day, the club waived forward Colleen Williams.

Ed Morgans is the D.C. United Page Editor for District Sports Page. For in-game analysis and story notifications, follow him on Twitter @writered21.

About Ed Morgans

Ed Morgans is DC United Page Editor for District Sports Page. Ed worked for The Journal Newspapers (now The Examiner) and covered DC United from 1997-2002. He spent the 2003 season writing for the club’s website. Ed has covered All-Star Games, MLS Cups, CONCACAF Champions Cup, World Cup qualifiers, and international friendlies. He also worked as a blogger at www.bigsoccer.com, the country’s leading soccer message board website. You can follow Ed on Twitter @writerEd21.

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