After only picking up two points on their recent three game road trip, D.C. United needed all three points on Saturday night against Orlando City to get themselves back into a playoff spot. And that’s exactly what the Black-and-Red did, beating the Lions 4-1 behind a brace from forward Patrick Mullins and three assists from Taylor Kemp. With the win, United moved a point ahead of the New England Revolution for the sixth and final playoff spot with 30 games played, though the Revs play tomorrow with a chance to get their spot back.
Mullins scored in the 34th minute to give United the lead they wouldn’t relinquish, and then Lloyd Sam and Mullins scored two minutes apart early in the second half to give United a three goal cushion. Substitute Julio Baptista tallied the lone goal for Orlando, firing home a free kick from 19 yards out in the 72nd minute. Julian Buescher, who came on as a first half sub for Marcelo Sarvas, provided the final margin with his first MLS goal, finding a way past keeper Joe Bendik in the 90th minute.
There was only one change to the side that drew 2-2 with the Chicago Fire last Friday. Nick DeLeon, who had spot appearances at right back with in game substitutions got his first start there, with Luke Mishu moved to the bench.
It was DeLeon getting forward for the first two chances of the game, as he collected a pass from Luciano Acosta in the 3rd minute, before firing a shot that was deflected just wide of the goal. The resulting corner bounced out to DeLeon near the top of the box, but his left footed shot fizzed just wide of the goal.
Antonio Nocerino, who was close to joining United this past offseason before Orlando swooped in at the final moment, had the first look at goal for the Lions in the 8th minute, racing on to a loose clearance from Marcelo in the box. Nocerino’s shot was on target, swerving, but right at Bill Hamid, who was comfortable with his catch.
Acosta, on the move in the 11th minute, created an opportunity for the quick firing Rob Vincent, who needed no coaxing to take aim from range. With plenty of space, Vincent’s shot from outside the box tested Bendik, who pushed the shot out for a corner.
Kaka created a moment of danger for the Lions in the 13th minute, as he skipped around his fellow Brazilian Marcelo in the box to get towards the end line. The cross in for Kaka was into an inviting spot in front of goal, by Cyle Larin couldn’t stretch far enough to get on the end of the cross, just missing an easy redirection for the opening goal.
Marcelo then had to exit the game, after going down at midfield in losing possession. Marcelo tried to play on, but he eventually went down and was replaced by Buescher. A team spokesperson announced mid-game that Marcelo will have a MRI for a right knee injury on Sunday.
Hamid was then called into action in the 27th minute, intervening just in time to keep the game scoreless. A corner from Matias Perez Garcia found center back Jose Aja, who did just enough to get a header directed goalwards. The ball might have bounced off the woodwork, but Hamid palmed the ball over the goal for safety, and United successfully defended the resulting corner.
Mullins then popped up in the 34th minute to give United the lead, staying just onside for his 6th goal of the season. Sam played a pass into the middle of the box for Patrick Nyarko, who collected the ball before backheeling a pass to Taylor Kemp behind him. Kemp fired the ball across the face of goal from an angle. Kemp might have scored on his own, but Mullins - barely held onside by the retreating Orlando defense - redirected the ball home for the 1-0 lead just to be sure.
The rest of the half went without a chance for either team, but in first half stoppage time, Mullins just missed out being in on goal with just Bendik to beat. Timing a run to beat the offside trap, Mullins would have been through, but he failed to corral Nyarko’s cutting pass.
Bobby Boswell was denied on the volley by Bendik to start the second half, as the center back stayed up after a free kick for United. A second ball was played into the box by Sam, finding Boswell wide open 15 yards from goal. The right footed volley was well struck, but Bendik was equal to the effort, pushing it away from goal.
The near miss was a signal of things to come, and moments later United had their second goal as Sam scored what turned out to be the game winner. Acosta and Kemp exchanged passes on the left hand side, probing deep in Orlando territory. Kemp found enough room to curl in a cross, and Sam beat his man to the spot, guiding a bouncing header by Bendik in the 51st minute for his second goal in the Black-and-Red.
From there, it then only took another two minutes for Mullins to put the game out of reach for the Lions. Kemp played a pass out wide for Nyarko, allowing the winger to get deep in the Orlando half. Nyarko found Mullins with a pass in the box, allowing Mullins to take a first touch away from David Mateos. That touch did just enough to allow Mullins to shoot back across goal, and despite not getting much power on the ball, Mullins beat the possibly screened Bendik to make it 3-0.
Orlando still had plenty to play for, despite the fact that the seemingly were now facing an insurmountable deficit to a team they could ill afford to lose to. They almost pulled a goal back in the 58th minute, as defender Kevin Alston got down the right side and fired a cross towards the penalty spot. Winger Kevin Molino was there to win the cross, but his rocket slammed off the woodwork, with Hamid unable to catch up to the shot.
Acosta tried to chip Bendik from distance in the 63rd minute, before Nocerino, much to the enjoyment of the crowd, was sent off with a straight red in the 66th minute. Trying to win a header from Mullins, Nocerino swung his elbow at Mullins, in full view of referee Sorin Stoica, earning his marching orders.
Baptista then added a bit of intrigue to the game, firing home a free kick from the top of the box in the 72nd minute. Baptista won the foul against Vincent just outside the box, and then took the honor of taking the free kick himself. From just 19 yards out, Baptista’s free kick got up over the wall, but pinged off the underside of the bar, giving Orlando a small breath of life.
Aja couldn’t guide a header on goal in the 79th minute which might have made for a nervy ending to the game, and then Buescher notched his first MLS goal in the 90th minute. A long switch out to the left for substitute Lamar Neagle opened up the field before Neagle passed into the box for Buescher. The German midfielder took one touch that owed something to Orlando's total hesitancy to close him down before getting a shot around a diving Bendik for the final 4-1 margin.
United, with 37 points from 30 games, returns to action on Wednesday, hosting the Columbus Crew at RFK Stadium.