Despite intense late pressure, a short-handed D.C. United held on for a 1-0 win over the Columbus Crew tonight in Ohio. Wayne Rooney scored the game’s only goal, burying a first half free kick, and from there United leaned heavily on their center back trio of Frederic Brillant, Donovan Pines, and Steven Birnbaum to fend off a barrage of Crew crosses. The win gave United their first three-game road winning streak since 2007, and broke a nearly 12-year winless streak at Mapfre Stadium.
After enduring some possession from the Crew, United forced an 8th minute turnover and carved out a good chance. Paul Arriola intercepted a careless crossfield pass, and with numbers up, he opted to dish to his left for Lucas Rodriguez, who was playing in an unconventional left wingback role to start the game. Rodriguez had his shot saved by Zack Steffen, and United may wish Arriola had passed to the well-placed Luciano Acosta instead.
Still, the Crew were doing most of the pressing, and a Hector Jimenez overlap became a real threat in the 18th minute. Jimenez sneaked in behind Rodriguez and pinged a cross in from the endline that was deflected by Bill Hamid into Brillant. The rebound was going to get across the line, but from the ground Hamid reacted quickly to smother it, bailing United out.
Despite not seeing much of the ball, United capitalized on a 27th minute free kick. Arriola initially won the set piece just a foot or so outside of the Crew penalty area, with Josh Williams being booked in the process. United had multiple players at the end of the Crew wall acting as a screen for Steffen, moving aside at the perfect time to allow Rooney’s curler fly past the USMNT goalkeeper and just inside the post.
The goal boosted United’s confidence, and a series of Rooney corners in the 34th and 35th minutes repeatedly found Birnbaum. On the first, the ball nearly pinballed into the net amid a scramble, while the next two became a shot for Leonardo Jara and
Still, the Crew weren’t out of it. Santos barely got a cross in from the endline in the 36th minute, picking out Federico Higuain, but Chris Durkin materialized from nowhere to save the shot on the line, and United scrambled clear. Two minutes later, Santos playing a stunning pass from deep on the right to find Higuain inside the box. Higuain struck his shot with venom, but Hamid reacted in time, just barely tipping the ball over the crossbar.
At the other end, though, another Rooney corner in the 38th minute saw United get 3 shot attempts away, with Brillant and Acosta both having dangerous bids blocked by a crowd of yellow shirts. Just before halftime, Acosta and Rodriguez did some wonderful work deep in the D.C. end to suddenly send Rooney in on a 1-on-1 with Jonathan Mensah, with his eventual shot clipping Mensah’s knee and skipping just wide.
A quick passing exchange between Santos and Higuain freed up Justin Meram in the 54th minute, and after some close control Meram shot low and hard across the face of goal only for Hamid to get a foot out to preserve the Black-and-Red’s lead.
Columbus really started to put United under pressure after the hour mark, with a Santos cross evading Pines, Gyasi Zardes, and then Meram all by inches in the 65th minute. Four minutes after that, the home fans were howling for a penalty kick after Jimenez went down under pressure from Pines, but referee Ismail Elfath instead booked the fullback for a dive (a call confirmed by replays).
United remained on the defensive. A Rooney foul on Santos gave Higuain an inviting free kick opportunity in the 76th minute, but the Argentine — so often a thorn in United’s side — couldn’t get his 25 yard effort to dip under the crossbar. An 81st minute deflection looped up to Santos, but the Portuguese winger rushed his shot, scuffing it right to Hamid.
Despite sustaining unrelenting pressure and barely being able to get out of their own penalty area — Columbus attempted 44 crosses on the night — United bravely held on, getting a much-needed win to increase their lead atop the Eastern Conference to four points.
The Black-and-Red will have little time to celebrate, as they head further north to face Minnesota United FC at the brand-new Allianz Field on Sunday.
MLS Regular Season (Game 9)
Columbus Crew 0
D.C. United 1 (Rooney 27)
Crew (4231): Zack Steffen; Hector Jimenez, Jonathan Mensah, Josh Williams, Waylon Francis; Wil Trapp (C), Artur (Patrick Mullins 83); Pedro Santos, Federico Higuain, Justin Meram (Robinho 76); Gyasi Zardes
DCU (3421): Bill Hamid; Frederic Brillant, Donovan Pines, Steven Birnbaum; Leonardo Jara, Chris Durkin, Junior Moreno, Lucas Rodriguez (Ulises Segura 86); Paul Arriola, Luciano Acosta (Jalen Robinson 90); Wayne Rooney (C) (Quincy Amarikwa 92+)
Crew - Jo. Williams 25, Jimenez 69
DCU - Birnbaum 4, Rodriguez 80