Photo by ISIPhotos.com
By CLIFF STARKEY
WASHINGTON—D.C. United are quickly putting the memory of last season well behind them.
Both D.C. United—second place in the Eastern Conference—and Toronto FC—one spot behind—wanted to use Wednesday’s game in the nation’s capital as an opportunity to keep pace with Eastern Conference-leading Sporting Kansas City, as well as further separate themselves from the rest of the playoff-seeking pack.
In the end, it was D.C. United who made the most of the night, and came away with those important three points.
Exceptional goalkeeping by Bill Hamid led the way for D.C. United to a 3-0 victory over Eastern Conference rival Toronto FC at RFK Stadium. Goals from Eddie Johnson, Chris Rolfe, and an own goal by Nick Hagglund ensured that D.C. United remain in the thick of the race for the Eastern Conference title.
D.C. United head coach Ben Olsen was understandably upbeat after the game.
“A 3-0 win against one of the better teams in this league—overall, it was a really good night,” Olsen said. “Shutouts aren’t easy to come by in this league, and I’m happy that the group got that tonight.”
For a team that has only won once in their last seven matches, TFC impressed early, but squandered multiple scoring chances throughout the first half. Had it not been for a phenomenal seven first-half saves by Hamid, TFC could’ve very easily had a lead going into halftime.
After the game, TFC head coach Ryan Nelsen lamented his team’s inability to score.
“We had the opportunities to score the goals, and we didn’t take them,” Nelsen said. “I think if we had gotten that first one—with the chances we had—it would have been a whole different game. We were soft in both boxes.”
But unlike TFC, D.C. United was clinical with the few chances the team created.
In the 8th minute, directly after TFC’s Dominic Oduro missed just wide of goal, D.C. United put themselves ahead thanks to a trademarked headed goal by Johnson. A Sean Franklin pass sent Perry Kitchen down the right side, and his brilliant cross found an unmarked Johnson, whose powerful header is his third in three games.
Olsen was again high on his striker.
“(Johnson) continues to get better every game,” Olsen said. “He was a real force tonight.”
After going down a goal, TFC looked more confident, but chance after chance was pushed aside by Hamid, who finished the game with eight saves.
D.C. United right back Sean Franklin said that the defense fed off of leadership by both team captain Bobby Boswell and Hamid.
“(Boswell) is saying stuff—(Hamid) is the one that sees everything,” Franklin said. “He’s yelling at me, he’s yelling at (Boswell), he’s yelling at the forwards even. He’s a big voice back there. It’s nice to have that support back there.”
The second half opened with another fantastic save from Hamid, who smothered a shot by Luke Moore in the 46th minute, who had been released by a surgical pass by Jermain Defoe.
After that, D.C. United put the game to bed with a 59th minute goal by Rolfe, who benefitted from a seldom-seen referee advantage called in the box.
After Nick DeLeon was brought down by a bad challenge by new TFC acquisition Warren Creavalle, referee Chris Penso looked set to blow his whistle and point to the spot. However, the ball bounced away from DeLeon, and right to Rolfe, who was streaking down the middle. Penso swallowed his whistle, Rolfe easily put the ball away, and D.C. United had a 2-0 lead.
Twelve minutes later, a TFC own goal by Nick Hagglund gave D.C. United three goals, and three points.
The win for D.C. United continues recent trends for both teams. D.C. United has won four in a row, while TFC will have to wait yet again for a chance to turn their slump around.
TFC captain Michael Bradley was disappointed with the result, but knows the season has a long way to go.
“It’s frustrating,” Bradley said. “But the reality is still that we’re more or less halfway through—and we’re not at the top, but we’re not at the bottom. The big games are still to come.”
Olsen sees the win as another step in his team’s march to the postseason.
“These guys are on a mission,” Olsen said of his team. “I think they want to do some special things. Things have been good, but we’ll be tested.”
This weekend, D.C. United travel to Houston to play the Dynamo on Sunday, while Toronto FC travel to Montreal to play the Impact on Saturday.