The last time that D.C. United tasted victory was September 23rd, 2017. Patrick Mullins scored his first goal of the season, and then added three others, as United took down the San Jose Earthquakes, 4-0. Since then, they had gone winless in nine games, including the first five in 2018. But on a warm evening in Annapolis, the Black-and-Red did just enough to earn their first victory of the campaign, taking down Columbus Crew SC 1-0.
Ulises Segura scored in the first minute, the third quickest goal in team history. And then United survived an onslaught in the second half, after Paul Arriola got sent off after a video review for a tackle on Artur.
“It’s a relief,” United Head Coach Ben Olsen said after the game during his press conference. “I’m not going to lie. It’s been a while.”
It was also the last time United had a chance to pick up points at home for the next three months. The team’s next eight games are on the road, before Audi Field is scheduled to open on July 14th. And at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis, Maryland, United got the type of gritty performance that saw them grind out a result against the Crew.
“The thought creeps in of not getting a win, and we are going to be on the road for a while,” defender Steve Birnbaum said after the game. “It wasn’t a must-win game, but it was huge for us. It was important to boost our morale as a group.”
After conceding an early goal two weeks ago in a 1-0 loss to Sporting Kansas City, United were looking to come out strong against Columbus. They had come close in several games earlier in the season in landing an opening punch, but against the Crew, early pressure finally played off.
A well worked move, involving Nick DeLeon, Luciano Acosta, and Arriola, ended with Segura one-timing a shot towards the far post. Just out of the reach of keeper Zack Steffen, United were up with just 43 seconds on the clock.
“The goal was a good pass from Paul,” Segura told media after the game, through an interpreter provided by the team. “I thought I could hit it first time. And it went in.”
“That was a perfect start for us,” added Birnbaum. “We wanted to come out flying, being physical, and pressing them right away.With Ulises scoring that goal, it was huge for us.”
United almost added a second goal in the 4th minute, when Frederic Brillant, wide open in the middle of the box on a corner kick, sent a header wide of the frame. United would hold Crew, who beat the Black-and-Red 3-1 last month in Columbus, quiet for most of the first half, though Pedro Santos rattled the woodwork in first half stoppage time.
Then, the video review decision in the 53rd minute put United in a squeeze. Arriola was initially given a yellow card by referee Ismail Elfath, for a tackle from behind on Artur. But after reviewing the play, Elfath changed his mind, and gave the winger his marching order.
There was some complaints on the field from United players after the red card, but Arriola’s manager seemed to not have been surprised by the call in the end.
“I was close to the tackle. I wasn’t surprised they VAR’d it,” said Olsen. “I was hoping they wouldn’t. When they went for it, I figured it was a good chance he was going to go.”
At that point, it would have been easy for United to feel bad for themselves, and not see the game out. They hadn’t tasted victory in nearly seven months, and were going to play the rest of the game on the backfoot, especially as Oniel Fisher and Kofi Opare were brought on for Mullins and Acosta.
It took two special saves from Steve Clark, who started in place of the injured David Ousted, to keep United in front, but as the game wound down, United did even to limit the amount of scoring chances the the Crew were able to create.
“The team responded in a great way. It simplified the game for us,” Olsen said of his team’s performance after Arriola’s sending off. “We had one job at that point, and it wasn’t about going and getting a second [goal]. I thought the guys defended the box extremely well.”
United get a week off before getting their road trip under way, with a trip north to face the Philadelphia Union. But after a similar break after the SKC loss, United had the lack of a win hanging over their heads, an unwanted nuisance for a club trying to get back to the playoffs after a disappointing 2017 campaign.
But after the victory on Saturday night, there was much relief.
“Everyone emptied their tank and gave everything they had,” said Olsen. “I was proud of the way the group responded.”