D.C. United's stuttering start to the 2016 season came to a screeching halt on Saturday afternoon, as the Black-and-Red stormed past the Vancouver Whitecaps in a 4-0 win. Goals on either side of the half from Fabian Espindola had United in a good position to win their first game of the season, before Luciano Acosta assisted twice for Alvaro Saborio late in the game for the final margin.
After enduring five matches without a win to start the season, United entered a stretch of six games when they play five times at home to turn the season around. And United wasted little time in trying to take the game to the Whitecaps. Marcelo Sarvas, back from suspension, tested David Ousted in the 2nd minute, but could only force an easy save from the Danish keeper.
In the 11th minute, Nick DeLeon was able to put Ousted to work after Patrick Nyarko won a long ball in the box. The ball took a fortuitous bounce towards DeLeon, allowing the newly minted center midfielder to set up a shot. Around two defenders, DeLeon got his shot on target, but Ousted was able to push the shot wide.
Espindola had a shot from a tight angle saved a minute later, before Steve Birnbaum won a header from a Sarvas free kick only to send the header wide as it bounced back in front of goal. Ousted was then quick to cut out a cross from Espindola, who had Neagle lurking six yards out.
A poor clearance from Cristian Techera bounced off of Sean Franklin and towards Nyarko in the box in the 27th minute, but the winger slipped as he took aim, sending his shot well wide of the mark. Nyarko then got around his defender six minutes later to open up a crossing path, finding Espindola near the middle of the box, only for Espindola to be denied by Ousted's knees. The Whitecaps struggled to create much of anything in the first half, but Blas Perez had an opening in the 35th minute, only to send his shot from range wide of Travis Worra in the DC goal.
Whereas the Black-and-Red had started brightly against FC Dallas but fell behind in the first half in their last home game, United were able to make their dominance count against Vancouver, as Espindola found the net for his second goal of the season in the 39th minute.
DeLeon started a break from United's box as the Whitecaps pressed forward, moving through midfield to start a counter attack. At midfield, DeLeon sprayed the ball out wide for Nyarko, who continued forward on the left before slotting Chris Rolfe through a gap in the Vancouver defense. Rolfe forced Ousted into a sprawling save, but the Dane couldn't contain the rebound, with Espindola arriving just in time to prod home for the 1-0 lead.
The Black-and-Red nearly coughed up that lead near the end of the half, as a rare foray forward from the 'Caps forced Worra into action. Techera waited for the run of right back Fraser Aird, then slipped a ball in behind the defense. Aird took his shot first time, but Worra was able to parry it away for a corner.
United continued their dominance of the game early on in the second half, taking the action to the Whitecaps, who struggled to protect themselves. Neagle just missed connecting with two teammates on a free kick in the 47th minute, and moments later, DeLeon played Espindola in only for Ousted to make a save from a sharp shot.
The Argentine striker then was picked out by Franklin with a cross to the far post, but his header came from a tight angle, and Ousted was able to save confidently.
A spell of possession in United's half for the Whitecaps spelled some danger for D.C. in the 53rd minute, as Vancouver pushed for an equalizer. But despite the possession and several attempts to break into the box, the best the Whitecaps could manage was a long range shot from Perez that went well wide of the goal.
That seemed to be it for Vancouver, as a minute later, United added to their lead. Nyarko worked to win a corner for United, and Taylor Kemp whipped a ball into the danger zone in front of goal. Steve Birnbaum rose up to slam a header off the bar, and the rebound fell right to Espindola, who again, made no mistake on the doorstep for the 2-0 lead.
The goal seemed to set United up for their first win of the season, but Vancouver hit the woodwork in the 68th minute. Substitute Kekuta Manneh made his way towards goal from midfield, forcing a save out of Worra. United did poorly to clear, with the ball falling to Erik Hurtado. With Worra scrambling, Hurtado took aim, but hit the bar, and the ball bounced out of danger.
United seemed set from there to see out the game, but with the introduction of Acosta and Saborio, the Black-and-Red were able to take advantage of some tired legs from the Whitecaps. United added two goals late on, the first time they had scored four goals since last October.
A break from Acosta in the 88th minute allowed plenty of space for the Argentine playmaker. With Saborio streaking towards goal, Acosta's perfectly weighted early ball found the Costa Rican behind Vancouver's defense. Saborio let the ball roll in front to set himself up, then fired past Ousted for the three goal advantage.
The rout was complete in stoppage time, as Saborio and Acosta combined again for the United's fourth goal. Saborio had the ball near Vancouver's box, but made way for Acosta. Saborio then made his move, running beyond the back line, with Acosta again finding Saborio by dissecting the remaining Whitecaps defense. It only took one touch this time, as Saborio made sure of a miserable night for the Whitecaps.
United return to action next week against Toronto FC at home.