Another week, another last-gasp winner for D.C. United. Despite being outplayed for long stretches and relying largely on Bill Hamid's heroic performance in goal, the Black-and-Red walked out of the Citrus Bowl with a 1-0 victory over Orlando City thanks to a stoppage-time free kick goal from Luis Silva. With the smash-and-grab win, United moves into first place in the Eastern Conference for the time being.
United's previous road trips involved poor starts, allowing both LD Alajuelense and the New York Red Bulls to seize control of proceedings early. Tonight was a bit different, as United managed to slow the game down and keep the early stages uneventful. However, the first chance still went to the Lions in the 18th minute. Kaka's corner kick to the back post seemed to catch United unprepared, and Amobi Okugo ended up heading a pretty decent scoring chance wide while unmarked.
Within a few minutes, Orlando began to turn the screws. Taylor Kemp managed to block Kevin Molino's shot attempt after Cyle Larin - who subbed on early due to Pedro Ribeiro pulling his hamstring - appeared to have unlocked the defense with a clever heel flick in the 23rd minute. About 80 seconds later, Aurelien Collin matched Okugo by heading a corner wide despite going unmarked.
Orlando should have taken the lead in the 31st minute. A poorly timed step by Sean Franklin let Brek Shea - who was dangerous throughout the first half - whip in a low cross behind the defense. Kemp should have easily cut the cross out, but he missed the ball entirely. Molino collected the loose cross and ripped a shot goalward, but could only hit the woodwork.
Orlando forced a huge save out of Hamid in the 33rd minute. A lovely exchange of one-touch passes just outside United's box ended with Molino scooping the ball over the defense and in for Rafael Ramos, who had made a sneaky run around Kemp. Ramos was in a great position to score, but Hamid produced a kick-save to keep the scores level.
Hamid came up huge again eight minutes later. A misunderstanding in midfield saw Kaka escape with the ball into the attacking third. United tried to pull an offside trap in an effort to mitigate the Brazilian star's through ball, but the coordinated step forward was clearly a moment too late. Molino ended up in behind for a one-on-one, but Hamid had read the play and was already well off his line. That left Molino with far less of the goal to shoot at than he probably expected, and as a result the USL's single-season goalscoring record holder was denied.
United had another poor attempt at an offside trap in the 42nd minute, though this one was mostly on Sean Franklin. He stepped without seeing whether his teammates were coming with him, and Kaka used that space to pick out the Canadian international Larin. Fortunately for United, the rookie rushed his shot and rolled his effort comfortably wide.
Just before halftime, both teams created good scoring chances within seconds of each other. A quickly-taken free kick from Davy Arnaud near midfield was poked away from Chris Pontius by Collin. OCSC broke the other way, and Molino lobbed the ball in for Larin just outside the six yard box. Hamid came up with a reflex save, and United surged upfield on the break immediately. In the end, Jairo Arrieta's cross from the left gave Rolfe - who had switched out to the right duringthe counter - a highly difficult shooting chance. Rolfe nonetheless nearly converted it with a flick that beat Ricketts but rolled just inches to the wrong side of the post.
At halftime, Ben Olsen responded to the heavily left-sided nature of Orlando's attacks by bringing Michael Farfan in for Nick DeLeon, who per Pablo Maurer was also experiencing some muscular "tightness." Farfan played right midfield, and it appeared United's tweaks involved asking Perry Kitchen to stay home a bit more and a team-wide push to tackle with more aggression.
Other than a block inside the six yard box from Kemp after another dangerous Shea cross in the 50th minute, United had clearly stopped the bleeding for the time being. Arrieta came off for Conor Doyle, but the next United attack ended up falling for Franklin. Farfan's cross from the right should have been easy for Collin, but he ended up setting United's right back up for a good look on goal. Franklin ended up blazing it well over the bar, letting the big Frenchman off the hook.
After the hour mark, Orlando resumed turning up the pressure on United but couldn't quite create a look on goal. The Black-and-Red managed to bend without breaking, and they ended up creating the next good look. Kemp's inch-perfect 60 yard crossfield ball picked out Franklin sneaking in behind a defense that never saw him coming. Franklin teed up Doyle, who probably should have been able to guide his shot past Ricketts. The Jamaican veteran managed to get low to make the save, but the rebound rolled towards Pontius. His goalbound shot seemed destined to break the deadlock, but Shea made a spectacular goalline block. The ball popped up towards Doyle, who tried to head it past Ricketts but was denied again to finish off a crazy sequence.
Molino found Larin in a good spot in the 74th minute, but it asked a lot of the first pick in the 2015 Superdraft. Larin reached behind himself to control the ball before spinning around to shoot. Fortunately for United, Hamid got down quickly to smother the shot. Two minutes later, Silva entered the match in place of Rolfe, with Doyle moving to left midfield to maintain the 442 formation.
Despite adding 2014's joint-leading scorer to the equation, United coughed up the next few chances. Kaka had a 1v1 inside the 18 yard box against Franklin, but the veteran defender didn't bite on his feints. Kaka ended up growing impatient and smashed a shot into the stands in the 78th minute. Moments later, a slip from Silva ended up giving Carlos Rivas - himself in the game off the bench following an injury - the chance to fire on goal from over 20 yards. This time, Hamid was forced to dive to his left and produced another top-notch save.
In the 81st minute, a bad pass from Franklin gave Okugo the chance to slide in and win possession for the Lions. Orlando charged forward on a 5v4 break, with Molino shuttling the ball to Rivas on the left side of United's penalty area. The young Colombian DP's low shot got past Hamid but - like Rolfe's shot near halftime - missed the lower corner by inches. Four minutes after that, Kaka headed a corner kick wide at the back post after rising above a crowd to meet the service from Molino.
Mental fatigue started to set in for a clearly frustrated Orlando side, giving United some looks in the final five minutes. Pontius couldn't square himself to goal on an 85th minute Silva corner kick, while Farfan's snapshot after sneaking behind the defense was deceptively close to going in.
Those misses set the stage for United to snatch the full three points. Silva was fouled by Darwin Ceren - much to the chagrin of Collin, who could be seen lecturing the defensive midfielder in the moments after the call - about 24 yards from goal and left of center. Silva stepped up to take the shot himself, curling the ball over a disintegrating OCSC wall and just barely inside the post to give United a second straight stoppage-time winner.
United had to dodge one more bullet, as a clear dive by Rivas tricked referee Chris Penso into handing the Lions a free kick. Like Silva, Rivas ended up curling his shot around the wall; unlike Silva, his shot flew just wide of Hamid's right post, though it did look like the DCU Academy product had the shot covered if it were on frame.
United's next match is April 11th at RFK Stadium, where they'll have a great chance to get revenge on the Red Bulls in what figures to be a battle for first place in the East as well as another chapter in the Atlantic Cup.