D.C. United put an exclamation point on their best week of the 2016 season, coming back to knock off Toronto FC 2-1 at BMO Field. After Jozy Altidore used some wonderful moves to put TFC ahead in the 36th minute, Lamar Neagle pulled United level just three minutes later. Neagle then gave United their third straight win with his second of the night, running onto a Lloyd Sam pass before ripping the game-winner past Clint Irwin in the 58th minute.
Despite this being the third game in a week, Ben Olsen made only three changes to the side that defeated Columbus 3-0 on Wednesday night. Lamar Neagle and Luke Mishu came in on the left side for normal starters Patrick Nyarko and Taylor Kemp, and Julian Buescher replaced Jared Jeffrey - who went 90 minutes mid-week despite rumors that he was not going to be able to play that long - in central midfield. Meanwhile, Collin Martin made the bench for the first time in a season mostly lost to a foot injury, while Alhaji Kamara returned after months out with a hamstring strain.
Toronto’s diamond midfield gave them the platform to dictate the terms early on, holding well over 60% of the possession. Chances, however, were few and far between for both sides. Sam found Neagle slashing across to the near post in the 17th minute, but the former Seattle Sounder arrived too early and headed wide.
TFC’s first good look came in the 28th minute, as Michael Bradley’s corner lured Bill Hamid off his line to punch. Drew Moor, sprinting in unimpeded, met the ball first, but sent his header wide of the untended goal. Hamid would make up for his mistake three minutes later, as he closed down the overlapping Mark Bloom - who had escaped Neagle to race in all alone onto Altidore’s pass. Bloom fired, but Hamid stayed strong and stoned the fullback’s shot.
The Reds were having their best phase of the game, and capped it off with a 36th minute goal. The play started with Eriq Zavaleta poking the ball away from Patrick Mullins, with Armando Cooper taking possession. Cooper intelligently went vertical, firing a pass through a gap in the United midfield straight to Altidore, who was already one-on-one with Steve Birnbaum. Left on an island, Birnbaum tried to hold off his USMNT teammate, but Altidore’s third fake finally shook United’s #15 off. Altidore touched it to the right to round the charging Hamid before rolling the ball into an empty net.
United responded in the best way possible. The Black-and-Red won a corner that Sam served in. TFC half-cleared it, but Buescher was first to the loose ball, chopping it back into the area for Sam (who was untracked by Toronto following the cross). Sam’s low cross got through some near post traffic, but Zavaleta got a foot to it. Fortunately for United, his touch was poor, and Birnbaum arrived to force a shot towards goal. Irwin, despite being screened, managed to leap to his left despite shuttling to the right and made a wonderful save. However, his save went along the goalmouth, where the unmarked Neagle stooped to head in from a yard out.
TFC protested the goal, demanding an offside call, but replays showed that Sam was kept onside by Bradley, while Neagle was held onside for his header by Bloom.
DC nearly made it 2-1 just before halftime, as Sam’s pass to Acosta sprang a 3v3 break forward. Acosta used his body language to signal a pass to Mullins at the back post, but instead slotted it to Neagle down the middle. Neagle, perhaps faked out in the same way TFC was, opted to dummy the ball on for Mullins, but Moor was in position to clear from inside the box.
Greg Vanney made a halftime tactical adjustment, moving from a full-time diamond 442 to a hybrid system that attacked as a 352. However, this only served to make TFC more predictable going forward, as the Reds subsisted for a long period on nothing more than crosses and long balls. One early cross from Bloom nearly worked, as Daniel Lovitz would have had a sure goal if he had arrived a split-second earlier at the back post.
The home crowd roared for a penalty in the 52nd minute, but Nick DeLeon clearly had position on Lovitz, and referee Mark Geiger correctly called a foul on the TFC wide man. This would become a theme in the second half, as TFC often complained for a call in and around United’s penalty area.
TFC fans would be even more upset in the 58th minute, as Neagle scored the eventual game-winner. Zavaleta won a header on a long ball, but Sam was unchallenged in picking up the loose ball. Neagle sensed the moment, sprinting in behind the Toronto defense, and Sam rewarded him with an inch-perfect through ball. TFC would protest that Neagle was offside, but replays seemed to indicate that Moor just barely kept Neagle on. With no call coming, Neagle charged into the box before powerfully shooting past Irwin to put United ahead 2-1.
Altidore felt strongly that he was fouled off the ball by Boswell while trying to get into position for a Lovitz cross, but Geiger appeared to defer to his assistant referee, who made no call. TFC would turn to the bench, committing fully to a 352 and bringing in Jordan Hamilton up front for Mo Babouli. Hamilton ended up troubling Boswell numerous times, including just seconds after entering the game in the 66th minute. Zavaleta’s long ball caught Boswell leaning, and Hamilton dashed in behind him. Hamid read the danger, though, and was out quickly to block Hamilton’s shot with his shoulder.
Eight minutes later, Hamilton used some lovely skill on the endline to dance around Boswell before passing back to Jonathan Osorio. Osorio’s pass into the box was initially poked away, but Cooper recovered it. The Panamanian international faked a shot to lose two United defenders, but he stumbled as he went to fire on goal, leaving Hamid with a straightforward save.
United occasionally strung some passes together in an effort to lower the pressure, but for the most part TFC was pinning them back. Altidore’s backheel somehow managed to sneak through for Hamilton, who tried to shoot back across his body. Boswell kept up this time, deflecting the ball wide for a corner that DC dealt with.
TFC’s complaints to Geiger reached their peak in the 81st minute. Battling for a chest-height ball in the box, Neagle and substitute Nick Hagglund both got touches within a yard of each other. Neagle’s clearance attempt hit Hagglund and bounced into Neagle’s forearm. Geiger could have given a penalty kick, but appeared to see the play as a case of ball to hand.
Less than a minute later, Bradley’s long-range blast of a free kick forced Hamid into a tough save, and substitute Tsubasa Endoh’s 86th minute cross from the right picked out the open Hamilton in a dangerous spot. United got a huge letoff, though, as the TFC homegrown player nodded three yards wide from about ten yards out.
Altidore continued his ongoing dispute with Geiger in the 90th minute, though in this instance he clearly just ran into the back of Birnbaum, who had position to guide the ball back to Hamid the whole time. A stoppage time shot from Osorio could have been dangerous, but it rolled along the slick BMO Field grass, lacking the power to trouble Hamid.
The Black-and-Red held on from there, and got the added bonus of seeing Collin Martin make his first appearance of the season after losing months to a foot injury. The win - coupled with Philadelphia’s 3-2 loss to the Red Bulls at the same time - has seen United jump up into fourth place, a spot they’ll hold onto if Montreal fails to beat Orlando tomorrow afternoon. DC will be off next weekend due to the international break, and will resume their season October 16th with a home game against New York City FC.