Fabian Espindola’s campaign for Major League Soccer MVP benefited from another memorable moment Saturday night, as D.C. United’s leading scorer lofted home a ridiculous goal in the first half that stood up in United’s 1-0 win over Sporting Kansas City before 18,522 on a beautiful night at RFK Stadium. The win lifted United into second place in the Eastern Conference (6-4-3, 21 points), just two points out of first thanks to New England’s shocking loss to Montreal.
For all Espindola has done in helping to resurrect United on the field so far this season, his goal Saturday night was the masterpiece of his highlight video. Taking a layoff from right back Chris Korb, Espindola appeared to pose little threat, as SKC defender Seth Sinovic tracked him, but didn’t close him down. This can be forgiven, since Espindola was moving the ball back to his left, away from goal.
But after a couple dribbles, Sinovic had been left behind, and sensing his opening, Espindola took a lofted, left-footed attempt at goal that first draw Sporting goalkeeper Eric Kronberg a couple steps forward off his line, before he realized he was in desperate trouble. Espindola’s shot fluttered over Kronberg’s outstretched arm and into the back of the net, ensuring that the game’s lone goal was one worthy of a top spot in the highlights.
The goal was Espindola’s seventh of the season to go with five assists. He is tied for fifth in MLS goals and second in the league in assists. This from a player whose prior bests in both categories were 10 (goals) and seven (assists). United is 3-1-2 in the six games where Espindola has scored (he netted two in a 4-1 win over FC Dallas on April 26).
The 28th minute strike was what turned out to be near the end of United’s serious forays forward, aside from Espindola’s shot to the back post in the 69th minute that just missed wide. Earlier, Eddie Johnson had been denied on a breakaway chance by a solid tackle from SKC defender Erik Palmer-Brown. An earlier header on goal by Nick DeLeon went straight to Kronberg. Palmer-Brown was a first-half substitute for the injured Aurélien Collin, while United also lost a defender in the half, with Korb leaving in favor of Sean Franklin in the 34th minute.
Much of the rest of the half featured solid attacking play by Kansas City, as the visitors were adept with quick passing to get forward, good runs off the ball, and quick recognition of where they wanted to go. But Sporting lacked in terms of creating quality scoring chances from all that and when it did, United goalkeeper Bill Hamid was flawless, making five saves and never taking a step wrong in his third shutout of the season, one that leveled his record at 4-4-2.
There was bad news from a personnel standpoint for United. Defensive midfielder Perry Kitchen was cautioned in the 82nd minute for a foul, which will result in him being suspended for D.C.’s next match, at home vs. the Columbus Crew next Saturday. In the fourth minute of stoppage time, substitute midfielder Alex Caskey was sent off for a sliding tackle on SKC defender Kevin Ellis. Caskey left his slid in for the tackle and left his right boot up, catching Ellis as he flew past.
United, however only had to see of about another minute of time after Caskey’s ejection to secure three points. United is now 4-0-2 in its last six matches at RFK and 3-1-1 through five games of seven against Eastern Conference opponents in the run up to the World Cup Break. Matches at home vs. Columbus and at Montreal remain before the break that covers most of June. United has now doubled last year’s full-season win total and with 18 goals through 13 matches, have already scored just four fewer goals than the team netted all of last season (34 games).
The question remains to be seen whether Espindola breaks last year’s team mark all by himself, but his start to the season has been something to behold and the rest of the league will be quickly taking notice. The only downfall was that Espindola was cautioned last night. He was able to smartly stay composed over the final minutes once head coach Ben Olsen had made all three of his substitutions (Franklin, Caskey, Lewis Neal).
United will be tested in its next match against a Crew team it has failed to beat in two tries this season, including a 3-0 loss at RFK Stadium to open the season. United has outscored its six home opponents since that night, 13-4, with four shutouts.
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.