After receiving a hotly contested red card in MLS last week, Fabian Espindola was unexpectedly available for D.C. United's visit to Jamaica to face Waterhouse FC. As it turns out, the Jamaican champs can now too claim that they were "Geigered," as Espindola scored both goals - including a sensational opener - to lead United to a crucial 2-1 win in CONCACAF Champions League play. United was forced to gut out the final 20 minutes plus stoppage time after Taylor Kemp was sent off, but the only goal Waterhouse could muster was Hughan Gray's strike direct from a free kick.
Entering tonight's game, DCU knew that avoiding defeat in Jamaica would throw the door wide open in terms of winning Group 4 and advancing to the CCL quarterfinals next spring. Waterhouse, meanwhile, knew that a win was more or less a must given the shambolic play of Tauro FC - the third team in Group 4 - thus far. With the win, United needs just one point from their two remaining games against Tauro. Waterhouse finishes their slate with a record of 2W-0D-2L.
Kyle Porter - starting at left midfield in Ben Olsen's mix of regulars and reserves - ended up heavily involved at both ends in the early going. He made the slightest bit of contact with debutante Waterhouse winger Cordel Benbow inside the United box in the 2nd minute, though the resulting penalty shout came more from the stands than from the players on the field. At the other end, he did well to round right back Gray but couldn't find anyone with his cross.
United would create the first good look of the match in the 11th minute, and again Porter was involved. Espindola's 22 yard effort drew a good save from 'keeper Richard McCallum, but he couldn't hold onto the ball. Porter arrived and tried to clip the ball over McCallum - who was trying to get up off the ground in time - but could only shoot into the 'keeper's chest. Refree Adrian Skeete awarded a goal kick, much to Porter's dismay.
Bill Hamid would be forced into a similarly important save three minutes later after Benbow - who repeatedly troubled United with his skill on the dribble - danced past Samuel Inkoom along the endline. Benbow's low cross into the six found Jermaine "Tuffy" Anderson, but his attempted flick allowed Hamid to make a reaction save. In the 20th minute Benbow got past Inkoom again, this time out along the right touchline. The teenager's cross looked threatening, but no Waterhouse player could turn it on goal and United escaped.
United would push back in the 24th minute, after a slip from Jamaican national team midfielder Evan Taylor. That gave Perry Kitchen the space to play Espindola into space on the right side of the box. Espindola's low cutback ended up a yard or so too far ahead of Kitchen's surging run, while the tall grass at Independence Park slowed it down enough to prevent Porter from being able to reach it.
Two minutes later, the Black-and-Red pressure would continue. Waterhouse blocked three shots within a five-second span as David Estrada, Espindola, and Porter worked a quick sequence to open up the defense. Inkoom stepped up to keep the attack alive following a clearance attempt, but Alex Caskey was eventually crowded out as he tried to turn and shoot near the penalty spot.
Back at the other end, United was caught too narrow and nearly paid for it in the 28th minute. Anderson did well to hold off Inkoom and set up overlapping left back Damarley Samuels with a backheel. Samuels was totally free due to United's narrow posture and Anderson's shielding of Inkoom, but his shot was not too much of a challenge for Hamid to stop. Waterhouse kept the throttle down, forcing two fine blocks from Kemp in the 37th minute after Romario Campbell chopped the ball back for Anderson inside the box.
However, United's next move forward would end up being a crucial goal. An aimless pass from Samuels back into the middle went straight to United's stand-in captain for the night, and the Argentine did the rest. Faced with a one-on-three situation, Espindola managed to outrun Taylor and center back Nicholy Finlayson before beating Upston Edwards on the dribble. Forced out to the right side of the box, Espindola delivered a sublime chip back across goal that had maybe an inch on each side to clear both the crossbar and McCallum's despairing attempt to save. The solo goal might be United's best goal of 2014 thus far.
Three minutes later, Anderson went in the book for a reckless, hard challenge on Caskey. It wasn't the first time that Caskey had been hit hard - both by Waterhouse players and by the ball at one point - and Estrada arrived to stand up for his teammate. Estrada and Finlayson would exchange light shoves again a few minutes later as the game became progressively more chippy.
Six minutes into the second half, Espindola would make it 2-0. Inkoom - moved up to right midfield after Caskey was removed at halftime for Sean Franklin - was allowed plenty of time to control the ball down the right wing by Samuels. The Ghanaian newcomer took full advantage of the generosity, whipping in a good cross that allowed Espindola the only clear angle to win the ball. Despite being marked by both Gray and Benbow, Espindola rose unchallenged to head the ball back against the grain, wrong-footing McCallum and giving United a lead they would never relinquish.
The first goal seemed to really take the wind out of Waterhouse's sails, and the second only compounded matters. Within the next seven minutes, United would go close through Porter - heading a cross from the right wing wide - before Inkoom's blast from the right side glanced off a defender and onto the post.
"Fire-House" got their legs back under them, however, thanks in part to a shot from Kenroy Howell. Following a mazy horizontal run with the ball, Howell turned and fired a low shot earmarked for the bottom corner only to be denied by the fingertips of Hamid.
Howell would be a major factor in the game's next big moment in the 69th minute. The Jamaican stumbled at first before surging into space. Right at the edge of the box, Kemp attempted a sliding tackle to prevent a true one-on-one. Kemp clearly missed the ball, and replays indicated that Howell took two steps before going down, but Skeete felt there was enough contact to send Kemp off with a straight red card for denial of a clear goal-scoring opportunity. Both teams ended up protesting the decision: United felt Howell had taken a dive, while Waterhouse lobbied for a penalty kick.
In the end, Waterhouse didn't need to worry. Following a substitution for the hosts, Gray's free kick - perhaps aided by the tiniest glance off of Steve Birnbaum's head? - kissed the bottom of the crossbar before falling clearly over the line to make it 2-1.
United moved into a 441 after the red card, and spent most of the rest of the game under pressure. Birnbaum produced a pair of blocked shots, and Hamid was forced into a strong save after Gray fired a cannon of a shot from around 35 yards out.
Waterhouse's best shot at an equalizer came in the 78th minute. Espindola had done well to escape a crowd, but United quickly wasted his good work and gave the ball away. It ended up with Samuels out on the right, and his cross found substitute Damion Binns inside the six. Fortunately for United Binns could only nod the chance wide, as Hamid had no shot at making a save.
The hosts took several more shots from long range and had a couple headers go over the bar, but ultimately their last look came deep in stoppage time as Hamid blocked yet another long shot from Gray. The ball squirmed loose, but late sub Bobby Boswell was on hand to clear under pressure.
In the end, though, the game was fairly similar to the match at RFK: Waterhouse fell in love with shooting from distance, while United showed the patience to wait for higher-quality chances that were eventually converted.
United's next match is back in MLS, where they'll take on the Chicago Fire in Illinois this Saturday evening. In CCL play, they'll host Tauro next Wednesday night on East Capitol Street.