Following a string of performances in which D.C. United conceded the first goal in six straight matches, proceedings got off to a different start on Saturday night against Toronto FC. But after Steve Birnbaum fired United ahead in the 6th minute, goals on either side of the half from Sebastian Giovinco gave the Reds the 2-1 victory.
The loss was the first for United at home in 21 matches, a streak dating back to June 28th last year, a 1-0 defeat to the Seattle Sounders.
Giovinco had a chance to open the scoring in the second minute, as a Collen Warner found the Atomic Ant in behind United's defense. But keeper Andrew Dykstra forced the Italian wide, and the shot after Giovinco regained possession was straight at Dykstra from a sharp angle.
Espindola, who had immediately tried to score from the opening kickoff, went for an almost audacious chip of Chris Konopka in the 5th minute. Near the corner of the box, Espindola spotted the keeper off his line, and sent a shot towards the far post that crashed off the woodwork.
United then found the opener moments, courtesy of Birnbaum's first career MLS goal. After Conor Doyle's shot was deflected out for a corner, Espindola whipped in an inswinging corner that the fill-in left back volleyed home from close range. It was the first time that the Black-and-Red had scored the opening goal in seven matches, the last coming on May 9 against Sporting Kansas City.
Sean Franklin had an opportunity to double United's advantage in the 15th minute, after working a give and go down the right flank with Doyle. After receiving the ball back from Doyle, Franklin cut in towards the box, before getting the ball on his left, and curling a shot just wide of the post.
From there, it was all Toronto for the rest of the half. After United failed to convert on several corner kick opportunities, Giovinco danced around Kofi Opare in the box, before moving towards the top. Giovinco then took a shot that was deflected, but Dykstra recovered in time to push the ball out for a corner.
In the 27th minute, a Benoit Cheyrou free kick rattled around dangerously in the United box, falling to Warren Creavalle near the goal. But as the midfielder turned to shoot, Dykstra made himself big, and made the point blank save to keep D.C. ahead.
A 1-2 betwen Giovinco and Warner then set the little Italian free in the box, opening up another shooting opportunity. But Dykstra was able to get enough of a hand to shot to force it wide, and then Franklin made the safe play to put the ball out for a corner.
With all the chances, an equalizer seemed likely from Toronto, and it was no surprise when Giovinco supplied the finish to level the score in the 34th minute. A turnover by United in TFC's half quickly sent the Reds the other way, with Giovinco reciving the ball near the corner of the box. After a couple of moves around Franklin, Giovinco rifled home from a tight angle for his sixth goal of the season.
A final opportunity fell to Toronto in the dying moments of the first half, as Franklin's attempted clearance of a Giovinco cross was deflected by Jonathan Osorio, but landed on the roof of the net.
While the first half got off to a quick start, the opening stanza of the second half as quite the opposite, with neither side forcing the issue early on. Nick DeLeon, who had entered as a sub for Jairo Arrieta in the 52nd minute, was denied an opportunity to shoot minutes later in the box, but found Perry Kitchen anyway. Kitchen hit his shot first time from outside the box, but saw his effort go high and wide.
Kofi Opare looked to have put United back ahead in the 60th minute, only to be denied by the assistant's flag. Espindola sent a free kick in from the right, that Konopka couldn't claim, which allowed Opare to poke home. But Birnbaum, who challenged Konopka in the air for the ball, was offside when Espindola sent the ball in, justifying the call.
The next chance then fell to Toronto in the 68th minute, as a turnover led to a quick counter attack. But with Giovinco looking for the ball, Luke Moore went out wide the other way for Jackson, who had his effort held by Dykstra.
United had the upper hand for a long stretch after, but were unable to really threaten Toronto's goal. Several times Espindola got goal side of his defenders, but his crosses were never to any avail.
Jozy Altidore then entered in the 82nd minute, and minutes later, Giovinco had the winner. Luis Silva, who had come on earlier for Chris Rolfe, had a turnover at midfield that Cheyrou collected. Cheyrou quickly played a ball towards the middle for Altidore, but the striker dummied the ball, allowing Giovinco to pick up. After a touch to steady himself, Giovinco fired home from 25 yards out for the 2-1 lead.
A late chance fell to Davy Arnaud in stoppage time after Konopka failed to claim a long ball in the box, but the midfielder was denied a shooting opportunity with a last ditch block.
United, who stay atop the East with 28 points from 16 games, head to Orlando City next Sunday for their next game.
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