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Ruthless D.C. United crushes Sporting Kansas City 3-0 - Recap + Highlights

Before tonight, one could argue that D.C. United lacked the sort of marquee win that Supporters Shield contenders usually have. Tonight, though, United broke through Sporting's high line time and again to win 3-0 on goals from Fabian Espindola, Chris Rolfe, and Perry Kitchen. With the win, the Black-and-Red stands atop the MLS table on 43 points.

Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

For D.C. United, tonight's visit to Sporting Kansas City was the biggest game of 2014 thus far. A win would take them to the top of the MLS table, but to do so they'd have to go on the road to a city they hadn't gotten three points from in seven years and beat Sporting, the defending MLS Cup champions. Fortunately for United, they offered up their best performance of the season just when they needed it the most, winning 3-0 on first-half goals from Fabian Espindola, Chris Rolfe, and Perry Kitchen.

The outcome was not just a shock due to the venue - a place United had never gone to without losing - and the opponent, but also due to how the game started off. While the first five minutes or so were even, KC assertively took charge and unquestionably dominated proceedings in the minutes that followed. Bill Hamid was forced to punch several crosses in traffic, while Soony Saad send one powerful long-range shot right at United's keeper in the 12th minute. Saad also fired just over the bar two minutes later as Sporting took up residence in United's defensive third.

However, los Capitalinos weathered the storm and around the 17th minute began to slow the tempo down and collect themselves. In the minutes that followed, United won three corners on blocked shots and crosses, but only one found a player in black: Steve Birnbaum's diving header attempt in the 23rd minute that spun comfortably over the crossbar.

While United had undoubtedly improved, there was little indication of the outburst that was about to occur. Fabian Espindola chased down Luis Silva's bouncing lob out on the left flank in the 24th minute, and appeared boxed in by Aurelien Collin along the touchline. Espindola made a move to run down the line before cutting back inside, sending Collin spinning. As he approached the upper corner of the area, Igor Juliao stepped up to pressure. Instead of getting nervous, however, Espindola used the Brazilian as a screen before firing a pinpoint low shot past Jon Kempin and just inches inside the far post to make it 1-0. The goal was Espindola's ninth of the season.

KC were left reeling due to their early control of proceedings, and United punished them again just four minutes later. A bit of pinball at midfield eventually saw Espindola check back to settle things with a first-time pass to Silva. Silva took a touch before clipping the ball around Collin for the onrushing Chris Rolfe, who timed his run perfectly to break Sporting's offside trap. In all alone versus Kempin, Rolfe stutter-stepped before ripping a shot low and to the right of Kempin. The 21 year old keeper got a touch to the ball, but Rolfe had shot with enough power that his effort had no trouble finding the back of the net, putting United up 2-0 as Rolfe wheeled away to celebrate in front of the pocket of United supporters that had made the trip.

United wasn't satisfied with 2-0, however. In the 31st minute, Perry Kitchen surged from deep to offer a run straight up the center channel. Rolfe turned provider this time, sending Kitchen in behind after Seth Sinovic held him onside by being about five full yards behind the rest of KC's back four. Collin recovered well to shut down Kitchen's initial angle, but the Akron product simply cut the ball back - sending the sprinting Collin past him like a bull missing a matador - before firing low past Kempin to notch his fourth goal of the season.

Sporting finally cleared the cobwebs a bit after seeing Sal Zizzo require treatment and an eventual substitution after taking a hit to the lower back, but ultimately all they could put together before halftime was a Graham Zusi free kick that Hamid punched away in traffic and a Matt Besler long throw-in that saw Golden Boot contender Dom Dwyer whistled for a foul after he undercut Hamid's attempt to make yet another punch.

While one may have expected KC to come out with a vengeance in an effort to claw their way back into the game, United ended up having a far easier time generating looks. Rolfe shot over in the 49th minute following some good work from Sean Franklin on the overlap.

An even better chance came four minutes later, as Espindola's clever flick freed Nick DeLeon to surge through the middle. DeLeon's attempted pass to put Rolfe in on goal bobbled up as he hit it, which appeared to end the opportunity. However, Rolfe managed to lay the ball back to DeLeon as he fell over, and DeLeon weighed up a shot before guiding a left-footer past Kempin and onto the far post.

In the 55th minute, United broke forward again with numbers after a Sporting turnover. DeLeon had options to his right and left, but waited a moment too long to make his decision. With his passing options gone, he tried to burst through the middle only to have Besler poke the ball away. Three minutes later, Davy Arnaud's lob over the KC defense put Rolfe in behind, but Kempin was quick off his line and made a strong save to keep the score at 3-0.

Sporting would finally push back on the hour. After a long spell of possession, Benny Feilhaber drew Arnaud and Kitchen to him before squaring the ball to Zusi in space. The USMNT regular had plenty of time and used it to drive a powerful shot which got past Hamid but thumped off the crossbar before soaring all the way out of the penalty area.

United would respond in the 64th minute with a corner kick that, following a flick-on from Bobby Boswell and a second header from Kitchen at the top of the box, fell to DeLeon. With his back to goal, DeLeon laid the ball off for Silva, whose powerful shot across the face of goal went wide. The sequence exemplified United's ability to win their individual battles in the air all game long against a KC team famed for their ability to be the better team in such moments.

From there, the game slowed down as Sporting showed the wear and tear on their legs after using numerous starters on the road in the CONCACAF Champions League mid-week. KC had plenty of possession, but were too tired to create openings while also being vulnerable to counterattacks. Substitute David Estrada had two such opportunities late, first letting the ball get under his feet just as he broke in alone on Kempin in the 81st minute before firing a volley off the post in the 88th after Espindola set him up with a sumptuous cross-field chip.

With the win, United leapfrogged four teams on 42 points - Sporting, Real Salt Lake, the Seattle Sounders, and FC Dallas - to go into first place in the race for the Supporters Shield. The games don't get any easier, however, as the Black-and-Red must travel cross-country for a midweek game against the LA Galaxy this Wednesday at 10:30pm.