45 minutes into Wednesday night's tilt against the Chicago Fire, proceedings weren't faring favorably for D.C. United. They had been in this position their past two homes games, conceding first before rallying for second half victories in games against Orlando City and the Philadelphia Union.
With the offense sputtering, maybe this time was going to be the time that the Black-and-Red wouldn't overturn the deficit, and fall to their first home loss in 19 games.
Instead, Fabian Espindola was inserted to start the second half, and by the 75th minute, United had flipped the score from being down one, to leading 3-1. Thanks in big part to Espindola, who in his first appearance since May 2nd, notched two assists and had a hand in the third goal.
"He was going to be the first sub," United manager Ben Olsen said after the game. "I might have held off a little bit into the second half, if the game wasn't what it was in the first half. It wasn't good enough."
Instead, Olsen replaced Miguel Aguilar to start the second half, and within minutes, Espindola had set up Nick DeLeon and Jairo Arrieta with chances. And in a 15 minute stretch in the second half, Espindola assisted twice Arrieta and Conor Doyle, and took part in Arrieta's second goal as well.
"After the [first] goal, I think we played better. The second half was much better than the first half," Espindola told the media after the game. "The first half was bad. And then we scored, started to play a bit better, and then the second one went in."
Espindola had picked up a knock early in the game on May 2nd against the Columbus Crew. He went on to score a goal and assist on the other in United's 2-0 win, but was surprisingly held out of the game a week later against Sporting Kansas City. After the game on Wednesday, he said the knock was something that he hadn't experienced before.
His knee had swelled up to the point that he couldn't bend it, and the knee had also filled up with blood. The blood wasn't draining, and what the club thought would maybe be a week long absence turned into four weeks, in which the Argentinian missed six games.
United fared decently during those six games, going 2-2-2 in the stretch. But Espindola's presence was felt in the second half against Chicago, as the team scored three goals for the first time this season.
"It was frustrating, when the field is so nice, and you're playing at home," Espindola added. "And you're not able to touch the ball, move the ball. Chicago was actually playing, so it was frustrating in the first half."
It's easily apparent that when he's on the field, United just have a certain different edge to them. Whether he's scoring goals himself, or setting up teammates, or creating space for others with the attention that he attracts, his presence on the field is a welcomed one for the Black-and-Red.
"He comes in and does what he does. He's a pest in the side of defenders," United captain Bobby Boswell told B&RU. "He gets a yellow card, and turns right around, steals the ball and goes down and gets a free kick for us. Almost scores a goal, and then sets up the other ones."
The first assist for Arrieta came from a corner kick in the 61st minute. Perfectly placed, Arrieta was able to beat his defender to simply redirect the ball into the goal. And then after sending the ball out wide to DeLeon in the set up for Arrieta's second, Espindola played a perfect cross through the box for Doyle at the far post for the third goal in 15 minutes.
"He's just a quality player. He's been a winner wherever, he's been, and tonight was no different," Boswell added. "When he comes on the field, he impacts the game, and that's what good players do. That's why they paying him the money they're paying him. He finds ways to impact games in a positive way, and we're glad as hell to have him back."