In front of one of its biggest home crowds, D.C. United gave a big-time performance.
After honoring its 2004 MLS Cup champion team before the game, the Black and Red (14W-4D-8L) put on a show Sunday for the announced 19,453 at sweltering RFK Stadium, moving four points clear of Sporting Kansas City in the Eastern Conference with a 2-0 win over the New York Red Bulls (7W-10D-8L).
"I don’t know [how many] people left for Labor Day in D.C., but I guess enough of them stuck around," joked head coach Ben Olsen, who nonetheless went on to voice his support for a new stadium. "It was a playoff atmosphere out there today, which I know our guys appreciated.
"At times, it probably got us through what was a very tough match under tough circumstances."
Indeed, the two sides played fairly evenly for much of Sunday’s contest, trading attacking blows only to see their shots trickle just wide or be denied by the opposing shotstopper.
Luis Robles provided the first of several goalkeeping highlights on the day, making an acrobatic catch in the 27th minute to cut off a chip by attacking midfielder Luis Silva.
Four minutes later, though, DCU’s Bill Hamid would one-up his New York counterpart with a diving reaction save to keep out MLS leading scorer Bradley Wright-Phillips’ header from 7 yards.
Tim Cahill then hit the post in the 42nd minute for the Red Bulls, who had several good looks in the closing minutes of the opening half: In the 45th, Hamid was called on once again, this time saving a shot from an unmarked Lloyd Sam to preserve the scoreless scoreline.
"I guess I just did my job," Hamid deadpanned.
But while Hamid continued his strong performance in the second half, Robles had no such luck.
In the 57th minute, off a punt from Hamid, Fabian Espindola flicked a header onward to Luis Silva, who found himself one-on-one with the keeper. Robles, seemingly indecisive on whether to charge or stay, ended up in no-man’s land, and Silva rounded him for the easy tap-in.
Eddie Johnson replaced Silva as a substitute in the 66th minute, but his first break with Espindola wasn’t nearly as clean: In the 71st minute, the striker was put clean through on goal but elicited a chorus of boos by instead opting to pass three yards behind Espindola to lose possession.
New York threw on striker Saer Sene in the 81st minute to replace struggling center back Ibrahim Sekagya, but United’s defense didn’t buckle. In fact, Johnson would redeem himself in stoppage time with an insurance goal, chipping Robles to make it 2-0 and secure the win.
The victory was United’s third in its past four league matches, but DCU won’t have another game at home until Sept. 24’s CONCACAF Champions League bout with Panama’s Tauro FC.
Having played five games over the past two weeks, the club will get the next two days completely off, Olsen said. After that, it’s back to the grind.
"We need to start thinking about these games as potential playoff games, making sure our mentality is one that we’re moving forward, we’re striving to get better over the next month or two," Olsen said. "If we do get into the playoffs, [we want to be] ready for it."