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Julian Gressel, D.C. United battle their way to third straight win with 1-0 victory over Columbus Crew

It wasn’t pretty, but United is suddenly unbeaten in four games and alive in the MLS playoff hunt

MLS: Columbus Crew SC at D.C. United Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

A resurgent D.C. United made it three wins in a row, and four unbeaten, with a scrappy 1-0 win over the Columbus Crew tonight at Audi Field. Julian Gressel’s 32nd minute goal decided a fractious game that saw the teams combine for two shots on goal. The win kept United’s playoff chances alive, with the Black-and-Red finishing the match just one point out of the final Eastern Conference playoff berth.

The sides traded set piece looks in the early going, with Donovan Pines nodding just wide at the back post from an early United corner. A 21st minute cross from Waylon Francis very nearly gave Krisztian Nemeth — starting in place of the injured Gyasi Zardes — a tap-in, only for Pines to intervene at the last moment. From the ensuing corner, Jonathan Mensah’s free header was destined for the back of the net, but Junior Moreno cleared it off the line.

The visitors were growing in confidence, though United seemed comfortable dropping into a lower block for a spell and restricting Columbus to crosses. However, once United finally re-established some possession, they took the lead in the 32nd minute. A crisp build-up saw the Black-and-Red work the ball from left to right, but it took a wonderful heel flick from Edison Flores to unlock the Crew defense.

That bit of clever play got the ball to Yamil Asad, who had come all the way across to the right side, and the Argentine’s low cross found Julian Gressel lurking at the penalty spot. Gressel changed his angle before shooting, beating Eloy Room for his second goal since joining United with a bit of help from a deflection off of Aboubacar Keita’s heel.

Gressel nearly added an assist just before halftime, with a deep cross finding Rivas only for the Venezuelan target man to nod his floated effort a bit too far past Room to tuck it inside the post. At the other end, the Crew nearly leveled the score with a fluky attempt that saw Luis Diaz’s cross nearly strike the bar before Hamid’s attempt to guide it over then hit the woodwork. Frederic Brillant — back after missing a game due to non-Covid-19 illness — ended up safely chesting the bouncing ball back to Hamid to end the threat.

The second half continued to have the same choppy rhythm as the first, with referee Silviu Petrescu, to the occasional chagrin of both teams, calling it tight. United, already short in the back due to injuries to Steven Birnbaum and Chris Odoi-Atsem, had to remove Joseph Mora midway through the half after a clash of heads with Mensah.

Columbus had the first genuine chance at either end, but it didn’t come until the 73rd minute, with Nemeth clipping a header inches over the bar after good work from Chris Cadden on the right.

United weren’t trying to park the bus, but in a game mostly defined by lines of engagement and counter-pressure rather than flowing play, they were spending less and less time on the ball as the half wore on. Columbus threw attacking players in, switching to a back three in the late stages, but Hamid claiming a low cross in the 86th minute was the closest thing to goalmouth action as United defended comfortably.

Substitute Erik Sorga nearly padded the lead with in the 87th minute after fellow substitute Moses Nyeman picked him out at the back post, but the Estonian blazed a shot just wide.

From there, United had to survive some nervy moments defending deep inside their own box as the Crew pumped the ball forward, but ultimately they were able to make the lead stand up. Now on 21 points (5W-6D-10L), United will return to the road for what is looking like a crucial game against the New England Revolution this Sunday.

Box Score

MLS Regular Season - Game 21
D.C. United 1 (Gressel 32)
Columbus Crew 0

DCU (4231): Bill Hamid; Oniel Fisher, Frederic Brillant (C), Donovan Pines, Joseph Mora (Erik Sorga 62); Russell Canouse, Junior Moreno; Julian Gressel, Edison Flores, Yamil Asad (Moses Nyeman 80); Gelmin Rivas (Ola Kamara 73)

Crew (4231): Eloy Room; Chris Cadden, Jonathan Mensah (C), Aboubacar Keita, Waylon Francis (Jordan Hamilton 83); Sebastian Berhalter (Darlington Nagbe 57), Fatai Alashe (Emmanuel Boateng 77); Luis Diaz, Pedro Santos, Youness Mokhtar (Lucas Zelarayan 57); Krisztian Nemeth

DCU - Mora 14, Brillant 17, Sorga 64, Fisher 74
Crew - Berhalter 6, Cadden 95+