The fireworks that accompanied the singing of the national anthem before the game reflected a cautious optimism around RFK Stadium after a dreadful 2013 season and a drastic upheaval in playing staff.
"I thought we'd be in better shape than we were today, but we have two weeks to get back to work," Head Coach Ben Olsen said after the game. "I still think we can strike at any time, and we were just a little bit off in some of the final things that really mattered tonight."
After all their rebuilding in the offseason, D.C. United handed MLS debuts to seven of their starting side, with Bobby Boswell returning for his second spell and captaining the team from the heart of defense. Boswell had been with the Black-and-Red from 2005 until 2007, and was re-acquired in the 2013 MLS Re-Entry Draft.
Things had a more familiar look in the midfield, with last year's joint-top scorer Luis Silva playing at the front of a diamond. Perry Kitchen played the holding role, while Nick DeLeon and another debutant - Davy Arnaud - were on the wings.
Of the starters for the Black-and-Red, only goalkeeper Bill Hamid, Kitchen and DeLeon survived from last year's two games with the Crew, both of which United lost.
There had been some moments of real optimism in the first half, as early on Fernandez saw a long-range shot palmed over by Crew goalkeeper Steve Clark and Boswell headed just over from a cross by Espindola.
Fernandez showed a great deal of willingness to get forward from left-back throughout the game but had a number of good crosses dealt with well by the Crew defenders.
However, Arrieta's opener after 18 minutes killed the mood somewhat. Josh Williams was allowed some space on the Crew's right by Fernandez and DeLeon, and he slid in a cross that was missed by Boswell and pounced upon by the Costa Rican.
Things got worse less than 10 minutes later, as Boswell was adjudged to have held back a Crew player in the penalty area and referee Andres Pfefferkorn blew for the spot-kick. Higuain duly stepped up and blasted the ball into the top corner, sending Hamid the wrong way in the process.
Those two goals were a killer blow to United, who looked threatening in attack without creating many more chances. Espindola showed a willingness to drop deep from his advanced position, while Johnson provided a threat in the air and on the ground.
There was some evidence of a growing partnership between those two, and also the hint of a burgeoning defensive partnership between Boswell and Parke. Meanwhile, Franklin showed a willingness to get forward from right-back in support of Arnaud, although an end product was not forthcoming.
The second half was mostly a midfield battle, but Higuain was on hand late to place the ball home from close range to complete the scoring for the Crew.
It meant the Black-and-Red slid to defeat on opening day for the sixth time in eight matches and kept scoreless for the fifth time.