Five weeks into the 2016 season, D.C. United was one of two winless teams in MLS. Three draws had provided several bright moments for the Black-and-Red, but they were sandwiched around two heavy losses. And with a stretch of five of six games at home, United were pressing for a win to right the course of the season.
On Saturday, they got that and more, as United cruised to a 4-0 win over the Vancouver Whitecaps, powered by two goals each by Fabian Espindola and Alvaro Saborio.
Espindola gave United a commanding lead by pouncing on rebounds on either side of halftime. The Argentine veteran put Chris Rolfe's saved attempt away, before cleaning up in the second half after Steve Birnbaum hit the bar with a header from a corner kick. In a sense, a classic number 9 performance.
"He usually doesn't get the number 9, scrappy goals, but that's just a product of hard work, and being hungry," manager Ben Olsen said after the game.
What was also apparent against the 'Caps was that United were finally able to put all aspects of a performance together for 90 minutes. There had been glimpses -- the first half against the LA Galaxy, for example, and stretches of last week's game against the San Jose Earthquakes. But despite leading at halftime in both of those games, United came away with just one combined point.
Leading at halftime against Vancouver, United made sure they walked away with all three.
"[The difference was] we scored. We've been building up to this moment. We knew it was going to happen eventually," Rolfe said. "We have had some good halves this year, so that was a big challenge for us coming out in the second half, and getting a good start. We did a great job of that, in the first ten minutes of the second half, we put them under pressure."
Olsen fielded the same lineup as the one that took the field last week in the draw with the 'Quakes, with the lone difference being that Marcelo Sarvas returned from suspension to replace Jared Jeffrey in central midfield. There have been some calls for Olsen to find a way to get Luciano Acosta in the mix, after the Argentine playmaker has been reduced to a substitute early in the season.
But Olsen defended his selections after the game, believing that it was just a matter of time before the likes of Espindola, Rolfe, Lamar Neagle, and Patrick Nyarko would start firing on all cylinders.
"I'm glad we hung in there with that group of guys, and continued to grow, and not panic. I think we are better off for it."
There was still time for Acosta and Saborio to shine though. Coming on late in the second half, the two combined for two goals to add some exclamation points for the Black-and-Red. The first came on a counter attack, as Acosta drifted wide before played an early ball in behind the Caps' defense. For the final goal, Saborio ceded possession to Acosta before continuing his run, getting on the end of the pass from the Boca Juniors loanee and finishing with aplomb from a tight angle.
Those goals came against a tired, defeated Vancouver side. But it showed just what each is capable of if Olsen needs to look their way for extended run-outs during the season.
"It's good. Obviously there's more space, and guys with their qualities can do what they did," Olsen said of Acosta and Saborio. "That's what a team is made of. You have a bunch of different ways to skin this thing, and it's good for them to help out the group tonight."
"I really don't want to call them the bench. You see those guys, they are starters anywhere. That's just the depth we have on this team," Nyarko added. "That's what keeps people hungry, and fighting for spots. You see those two guys coming off the bench, as a starter, you better put in a good performance."
The onus is now on United to keep this momentum going, to take advantage have having four of their next five games at home. The win tonight put them back in a playoff spot early in the season, but wins at home are a must for this team to reach their goal of making the playoffs.
"It starts at training. Players have to hold each other accountable, we can't get complacent," Nick DeLeon told B&RU. "We have to keep moving forward. If we keep putting in 90 minute performances, we are going to be looking good moving forward."