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Julian Gressel, Paul Arriola star as D.C. United storms past FC Cincinnati in 4-2 win

The duo combined for two goals and three assists as United moved back into a playoff spot in the East

MLS: FC Cincinnati at D.C. United Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

D.C. United got big performances out of some big names tonight in a 4-2 win over struggling FC Cincinnati. Julian Gressel had three assists, Edison Flores chipped in with two, while Paul Arriola scored twice as United lead by four goals only for Cincinnati to narrow the gap with two late strikes.

United got some welcome surprises in their starting eleven, with Andy Najar overcoming a knock to start. Hernán Losada was also able to start both of the Black-and-Red’s Designated Players, Arriola and Edison Flores, for just the third time in 2021. Flores and Najar were two of the three lineup changes, with Fréderic Brillant, the suspended Tony Alfaro, and the injured Drew Skundrich making way.

Donovan Pines was unlucky not to score a back-post chance on a 6th minute set piece that found its way to him, but United took the lead anyway just a minute later. A give-and-go between Julian Gressel and Edison Flores freed the former to fizz a low cross into the goalmouth, where Paul Arriola had the simplest of finishes after escaping his marker.

Cincinnati, who entered the match with one win in their last fifteen matches, did not crumble. Yuya Kubo carved out the game’s next chance, picking out Brenner for a 14th minute header that bounced mercifully wide of Bill Hamid’s right post.

United weren’t in the mood to let Cincy back in, though, with a free kick goal expanding their lead in the 21st minute. Gressel’s delivery couldn’t have been better, and Steven Birnbaum got loose to clip a header over Przemysław Tytoń for his first goal of the year.

Midway through the half, Pines made a spectacular defensive recovery after his clearance was blocked and fell favorably for the visitors, denying both Zico Bailey and Allan Cruz when either player could have ended up in alone against Hamid.

Luciano Acosta nearly got a goal on his return to Buzzard Point in the 35th minute, first stealing the ball from Najar and setting up Brenner, but the Brazilian’s shot was kicked away by a strong reflex save from Hamid. The ball skipped to Acosta, but with Hamid still down, the former United favorite could only thump the ball off the post.

The Black-and-Red made Cincinnati pay in the 41st minute. Gressel was again the architect, serving in a cross that Gustavo Vallecilla tried to head away. He could only guide the ball towards the back post, though, where Arriola lashed his shot past Tytoń to make it 3-0.

United continued to threaten early in the second half, with Flores barely unable to get a shot away on an empty net after beating Tytoń to a loose ball, and then firing wide on the turn after Kamara laid the ball back to him. Halftime substitute Yordy Reyna cooked a defender before curling a 59th minute shot past Tytoń, only for it to skip barely wide.

Cincinnati finally had a reply, but Hamid produced a top save to deny Brenner on a point-blank chance in the 63rd minute. United were in an unforgiving mood, though, and made it 4-0 thanks to Nigel Robertha. The striker, making his first appearance after two months out with a groin injury, was initially called offside before firing past Tytoń after DCU caught the visitors with numbers forward.

However, referee Chris Penso checked the VAR monitor, seeing that Geoff Cameron had held Robertha on, and after a review awarded United their fourth goal.

Cincinnati spoiled the shutout in the 80th minute, as substitute Brandon Vázquez fired a loose ball home on a scramble following a free kick. They then grabbed a second through Acosta, who danced in the box to freeze a group of United defenders before taking a shot that clipped Felipe, leaving Hamid with no chance at a save.

United nearly padded the lead in stoppage time, with Tytoń doing very well to deny both Robertha and Felipe, but also needed two excellent saves from Hamid just before full time to maintain their two-goal edge.

The win sees United (11W-4D-11L, 37 points) climb back into the Eastern Conference playoff places, though whether they finish the night in 6th or 7th place hinges on the result of CF Montréal’s game against the Columbus Crew. The win kicks off another busy stretch for United, whose second game in the next eight days sees them host Minnesota United Wednesday night at 7:30pm.

Box Score

MLS Regular Season - Game 26
D.C. United 4 (Arriola 7, 41; Birnbaum 21; Robertha 72)
FC Cincinnati 2 (Vázquez 80, Acosta 85)

DCU (343): Bill Hamid; Andy Najar (Frédéric Brillant 46), Steven Birnbaum (C), Donovan Pines; Julian Gressel, Russell Canouse (Felipe Martins 46), Junior Moreno, Kevin Paredes (Griffin Yow 78); Paul Arriola (Yordy Reyna 46), Ola Kamara (Nigel Robertha 65), Edison Flores

Cincinnati (532): Przemysław Tytoń; Zico Bailey (Calvin Harris 64), Nick Hagglund (Tyler Blackett 70), Geoff Cameron, Gustavo Vallecilla, Rónald Matarrita; Allan Cruz (Kamohelo Mokotjo 80), Yuya Kubo (Brandon Vázquez 80), Caleb Stanko (Florian Valot 80); Luciano Acosta (C), Brenner

DCU - Hamid 33
Cincinnati - None