D.C. United finished their preseason in style on Saturday, downing the Philadelphia Union 3-2 at the Suncoast Invitational in St. Petersburg. The Black-and-Red raced out to a 3-0 lead at the half, thanks to a 10 minute flurry of three goals. Patrick Nyarko opened the scoring in the 14th minute, with Jared Jeffrey and Patrick Mullins adding goals in the 21st and 24th minutes.
Oguchi Onyewu tallied the Union’s opening goal in the 51st minute, capitalizing on a second chance from a corner kick. Rookie Marcus Epps made the game interesting in the end, superbly finishing from just outside the box in the 86th minute.
With a week until the regular season opener against Sporting Kansas City, head coach Ben Olsen went with a lineup that appears to be his first choice to start the season. Bill Hamid got the start in goal, with Taylor Kemp, Sean Franklin, Steve Birnbaum, and Nick DeLeon manning the back line. Marcelo Sarvas started at the base of the midfield, with Luciano Acosta and Jeffrey ahead of him. Nyarko and Lloyd Sam started on the flanks, while Mullins spearheaded the attack.
Three weeks after the same teams played to an even 1-1 draw at the same Al Lang Stadium, United were the better side for most of the 90 minutes on Saturday night. The Black-and-Red went close in the second minute, with Birnbaum guiding a header from a corner on goal only for Union keeper Andre Blake to make the save. Blake then made a bigger save on Franklin in the 13th minute, denying a close-range volley from a corner.
Just a minute later, Nyarko opened the scoring for United. With the ball down the left, Nyarko got himself into the box by skipping around two defenders. Blake was possibly distracted by the presence of Mullins and Richie Marquez, which allowed Nyarko to pass the ball around Blake from an angle.
Hamid was tested by new Union midfielder Haris Medunjanin in the 17th minute. But Hamid, in his second game back from knee surgery, was equal to the chance, getting low and pushing the knuckling shot out for a corner. Two minutes later, former United midfielder Chris Pontius nearly leveled the score, but his diving header bounced just wide from a set piece routine.
United wasted little time taking advantage of a miss. Referee Geoff Gamble played advantage for United in the 21st minute, as Mullins was taken down by left back Fabinho. Acosta moved forward with the ball towards the box, and then chipped a pass into the middle for Jeffrey. Jeffrey was unmarked, and made no mistake redirecting the ball past Blake.
Mullins then got himself on the scoresheet with a screamer in the 24th minute. Sam had the ball out wide on the right for United, and then found Mullins near the top of the box. Mullins made a deft move to get the ball to his favored left foot, and then curled a powerful shot past the outstretched arms of Blake for the 3-0 lead.
United stayed in control for most of the rest of the half, though didn’t threaten to add to their lead much. Ilsinho could have grabbed one back for Philadelphia in the 42nd minute, but the midfielder smashed a shot form the top of the box over.
United’s three goal cushion didn’t last long, as Onyewu struck in the 51st minute to bring the Union within two goals. From a corner, Marquez won the service at the far post, with his header hitting the post. The rebound popped back to him, and Marquez smashed the ball back across goal. Onyewu was on the doorstep, and was able to stoop to nod the ball over the line.
After a couple of looks from United, Ilsinho nearly made it two for the Union in the 68th minute. Fabinho had a well-placed cross in from the left, and Medunjanin got just enough on a header to send the ball into the path of Ilsinho. But with just Hamid to beat, Ilsinho smashed the ball over from in front of goal.
Mullins had the ball in the back of the net for a fourth goal for United, but he was seemingly incorrectly flagged for offside. A well placed cross from Ian Harkes, who entered the game for Acosta, was fired home by Mullins from eight yards out. The assistant referee raised his flag, though, despite replays showing that Mullins was kept onside by Onyewu. This was not United’s first gripe with Gamble, who also turned down two very strong penalty kick shouts for DCU after heavy contact on Sam and Acosta inside the Philadelphia penalty area.
Epps then added a bit of intrigue to the end of the game with a goal in the 86th minute. The winger, a rookie from the University of South Florida, collected the ball out wide on the left and then worked his way towards the middle while DeLeon and substitute Jose Ortiz hesitated. From outside of the box, Epps fired a shot that skipped past Hamid to bring the Union within one.
There were no last minute heroics from the Union, and in fact their captain, Alejandro Bedoya, was sent off in the 89th minute. Having picked up an early yellow card for a foul, Bedoya was upset with a call that went against the Union late on. Showing his frustration, Bedoya angrily launched the ball into the stands, earning his marching orders.
With preseason now over, United begin their 2017 MLS campaign next Saturday, hosting Sporting Kansas City at RFK Stadium.