D.C. United finally got the crucial win at home they had been yearning for, defeating the Portland Timbers 2-0 on Saturday night at RFK Stadium. Steve Birnbaum and Luciano Acosta found the back of the net in the first half for United, who then were able to hold on for their first clean sheet at home since June.
The win by United propelled them into the sixth and final playoff position in the Eastern Conference, with Orlando City SC still to play their game this weekend. The victory also ended a six game winless streak, with the last win coming back in June (a 2-0 win over New England).
With manager Ben Olsen serving a suspension after getting sent off last week, assistant Chad Ashton was in charge of a lineup that brought Jared Jeffrey and Marcelo Sarvas back into an otherwise unchanged starting eleven. Nick DeLeon and Rob Vincent gave way.
Having dropped points in their past two home games in draws with the Montreal Impact and Philadelphia Union, United were desperate for a result against the Timbers, and got off to a quick start. Patrick Mullins won a corner kick in the 6th minute, forcing a mistake from Liam Ridgewell. Lloyd Sam sent the corner into the box, and a little flick from Bobby Boswell at the near post set up Birnbaum, who volleyed home from near the penalty spot.
Sam had an opportunity to add to the lead two minutes later, as Marcelo was able to pick a pass out in the attacking half. Marcelo's pass was lifted to the back post where Sam was making his run, but under pressure from left back Vytas Andriuskevicius, Sam could only volley over the goal.
Winger Lucas Melano was able to get around a challenge from Birnbaum down the left in the 12th minute, collecting a pass from Vytas and skipping past a sliding Birnbaum. That set Melano up for a cross into the box, but Boswell was the first to react, clearing the ball from a dangerous position in front of goal.
It was Bill Hamid's heroics that kept United ahead in the 26th minute, as Hamid made a crucial save in a one on one situation with Jack McInerney. A burst of pace from Darlington Nagbe in midfield freed up the US international to find McInerney, who had found space towards goal. McInerney only had Hamid to beat, but the keeper got enough on the shot with his outstretched fot to force it off the bar. United got to the rebound first to end the threat.
The Black-and-Red capitalized on that save three minutes later, as Acosta scored for the second time on the season in the 29th minute. Acosta found Mullins at the top of the box, where the striker collected the pass and held up his defender. Acosta continued his run into the box, and Mullins scooped a pass into the box, allowing Acosta to use a clever first touch to escape two defenders before dinking his shot over keeper Jake Gleeson for the coveted two-goal advantage.
Mullins nearly got on the score sheet himself in the 32nd minute, but he was denied by Gleeson for the first time on the night. Moments after play resumed following a weather-mandated cooling break, Acosta picked off a pass out of the back to launch a United raid. The Argentine quickly chipped a pass over the top for Mullins, who timed a run to beat the offside trap. Mullins had just Gleeson to beat and opted to chip the bouncing ball over the advancing goalkeeper. Gleeson saw it coming, though, and did just enough to glance the ball over the bar and onto the roof of the net.
Sean Franklin had the final two chances for the Black-and-Red to finish off the half, but the right back whiffed on a ball from Sam in the box. Moments later, he charged into the area on a pass from Sam following some fluent build-up play, but Gleeson was able to arrive just ahead of him and claim the ball.
Needing two goals to get something from the game, the Timbers came out pressing in the second half, and Diego Valeri got himself involved early on. Getting down the right hand side, Valeri found a pocket of space to send in a cross to the middle of the box. With Melano stretching to get on the end of it, Hamid instead claimed the cross from danger.
Acosta and Sam combined in the 58th minute, with the Argentinian slipping a pass into the box for Sam. The ball took Sam away from goal, but the English winger quickly found Acosta back at the top off the box. Acosta went for the curling shot towards the far post, but the shot was easily claimed by Gleeson.
Substitute Nick DeLeon was next on the list of recipients of passes from Acosta, who again played a dangerous ball into the box. This time DeLeon was able to send a cross into the middle, finding Mullins in a great spot. However, Mullins opted to take a touch, and could only poke a lunging shot toward goal. It still nearly went in, but Gleeson's brave dive at Mullins was enough to prevent a third United goal.
Mullins was denied for a third and final time by Gleeson two minutes later in the 62nd minute, as Mullins went on a long run from his own end. Pushing the ball up quickly and granted space by defenders having to track runners on either side, there was plenty of room for Mullins to take aim from outside of the box. The former University of Maryland man launched a powerful strike, but an excellent diving save from Gleeson pushed the ball off of the post and behind for a corner.
An impressive passing exchange near the top of the box opened up things for the Timbers in the 64th minute, probing for the goal to get them back into the game. Eventually, McInerney's layoff to Valeri at the top of the box led to a shot, but a first-timed effort from the Argentine playmaker was over the goal.
McInerney fired over from a tight angle from the left hand side of the box in the 67th minute, before he was set up on the counter by Jack Barmby in the 71st minute. The substitute Barmby made a quick break to create a three-versus-two break for the Timbers. Barmby moved the ball to his left for McInerney, who cut back towards the top of the box and fired, but Hamid did just enough to force the shot over for a corner.
Barmby was inches away from a goal in the 76th minute, as the Timbers were given a free kick 25 yards out from goal. Barmby took the honors from Valeri, firing a shot that curled over the wall, but smacked off of the bar, allowing United to keep their two goal advantage.
Marcelo fired wide after forcing a turnover in midfield, before Fanendo Adi could only shoot weakly at Hamid in stoppage time. The Black-and-Red nearly got a 92nd minute exclamation point, DeLeon was denied on the doorstep by Gleeson in the second minute of stoppage time. Acosta was sent scampering into space on the left by Lamar Neagle, and Acosta drove into the area before trying to pick out the charging Alvaro Saborio for a tap-in. Gleeson got down sharply to get a touch on that, and then managed to scramble up to his feet to save DeLeon's one-timer from the resulting rebound.
The Black-and-Red, with 27 points from 23 games, return to action next week, hosting the New York Red Bulls at RFK Stadium on Sunday.