D.C. United, at long last, managed to beat the Philadelphia Union. United came back to earn a 3-1 triumph over their nearest neighbors at Audi Field tonight, with goals from Ola Kamara, Yordy Reyna and Ramón Ábila overcoming a Steven Birnbaum own goal midway through the first half. United had not beaten Philadelphia in MLS play in ten games dating back to April 1, 2017.
United got off to what’s become a traditional fast start, carving out a shot that Yordy Reyna placed just over the bar about 18 seconds in, while Edison Flores bent a 6th minute shot from the edge of the box just wide with Union goalkeeper Andre Blake flat-footed.
The Black-and-Red were relentless, but couldn’t turn multiple chances into a goal. The best of them saw United produce a clever short corner routine that saw Julian Gressel square for a tap-in for Tony Alfaro, but the flag went up as Gressel had gone offside before the pass.
Undeterred, Gressel forced a wonder save from Blake a minute later, while Andy Najar had a penalty shout turned down by referee Rubiel Vazquez seconds later.
Sadly for United, all the chances going by the wayside proved costly in the 22nd minute. The Union, a couple of minutes after Jim Curtin was compelled to switch them into their customary diamond 442 after the rough start, managed to pull too many D.C. defensive players into the middle, opening up a pass out to Alejandro Bedoya on the right side of the box. Bedoya perhaps could have gone to goal, but opted to cross for Dániel Gazdag. Steven Birnbaum arrived to block the service, but the ball caromed off his chest and past Jon Kempin, making it 1-0 for the visitors.
United were again denied by some spectacular play from Blake, who somehow reached out to his right to both deny Reyna’s 11-yard shot after another Gressel cross, and guide the rebound away from the lurking Flores. Reyna was in the thick of it again in the 32nd minute when Flores’ shot rebounded towards him, and the Peruvian was wiped out by Alvas Powell.
Vazquez didn’t call the foul initially, but was called to the monitor by VAR and pointed to the spot. After a long delay to treat Reyna, complete the review, and clear the protesting Union out of the box, Kamara sent Blake the wrong way from the spot to level the score in the 36th minute.
United had been able to carve out chances on the right side all night, and went that route to the lead five minutes into the second half. Gressel’s cross was right on the money for Kamara, who beat Glesnes to head down only for Blake to come up with another save. However, Reyna was on hand to acrobatically steer the ball over the line for his fourth goal of the season.
While United were managing the game, José Martínez produced a tremendous long ball to open United up in the 69th minute, picking substitute Cory Burke out in space. D.C. got lucky though, as Burke’s first touch allowed Birnbaum to recover and block his shot, taking all the sting out of it and leaving Kempin with an easy grab.
Philadelphia were making a push though, with Bedoya sneaking a shot towards the near post that would have been trouble if he had put more power behind it in the 73rd minute.
United replied with a triple substitution to shore things up, moving to a back five after bringing Frédéric Brillant, Joseph Mora, and Ramón Ábila into the game. Russell Canouse nearly put the game to bed with a soaring 80th minute header from a corner, but Blake made another fine save to keep the Union alive.
Just as it looked like United were strictly protecting a 2-1 lead, Ábila produced something out of nothing to ice the game deep in stoppage time. The Black-and-Red went to the corner looking to kill time, but Philadelphia jarred the ball loose. Eventually it came to Ábila in the box, and though he initially hinted at posting up to kill the clock, he spun out of double marking and fired an outside-of-the-foot shot low past Blake at the near post.
United (9W-3D-10L) remain in 7th place despite getting to 30 points, but stay within touching distance of Philadelphia and CF Montreal with the win. They’re off next weekend due to the upcoming FIFA international window, returning to action Saturday, September 11, when they head up 95 to take on the New York Red Bulls.
MLS Regular Season - Game 22
D.C. United 3 (Kamara 36pen, Reyna 50, Ábila 95+)
Philadelphia Union 1 (Birnbaum 22og)
DCU (343): Jon Kempin; Andy Najar, Steven Birnbaum (C), Tony Alfaro; Julian Gressel (Frédéric Brillant 78), Russell Canouse, Junior Moreno, Kevin Paredes (Joseph Mora 78); Edison Flores (Drew Skundrich 60), Ola Kamara (Ramón Ábila 78), Yordy Reyna (Felipe Martins 86)
Union (4321): Andre Blake; Alvas Powell (Olivier Mbaizo 73), Jakob Glesnes, Jack Elliott, Kai Wagner; Alejandro Bedoya (C) (Anthony Fontana 85), José Martínez, Leon Flach; Dániel Gazdag (Quinn Sullivan 60), Jamiro Monteiro (Paxten Aaronson 73); Kacper Przybylko (Cory Burke 60)
DCU - Najar 55
Union - Elliott 59