Despite getting no contribution from emerging star attacker Own Goal, D.C. United posted a third straight 1-0 triumph tonight before 13,539 at RFK Stadium. Luciano Acosta’s 71st minute goal did the trick, as the Black-and-Red finished a busy week by taking all nine points available. Zoltan Stieber - one of United’s slew of transfer window signings - impressed on his debut, going 80 minutes on the left wing.
United, playing their third game since Saturday’s win over the Rapids, made three changes to the group that defeated Atlanta mid-week. Sean Franklin returned at right back, as did Marcelo Sarvas alongside Russell Canouse in central midfield. Zoltan Stieber made his debut for the Black-and-Red, replacing Lloyd Sam on the left wing. Jalen Robinson and Nick DeLeon - both standing in for injured defensive starters Steve Birnbaum and Taylor Kemp - maintained their spots.
New England, playing out of a 442 and without Lee Nguyen anywhere in the squad, came out as the aggressors, and United had to defend for nearly all of the opening 10 minutes. The Revs carved out two half-chances, but both Kei Kamara and Gershon Koffie fired well over the bar.
United, meanwhile, got a glimpse of what Stieber is capable of in the 13th minute. A slick move down the left side saw Luciano Acosta release Stieber with a clever pass. Stieber pushed the ball into the middle for Mullins, but the striker - who has lacked confidence all season after two early injuries disrupted his spring - clipped his shot over the bar.
That move signalled the start of some better play from the Black-and-Red though, with Stieber's tendency to drift inside and play one-touch soccer a key factor. A short corner saw Kofi Opare win a header only for it to go back across goal, and in the eventual chaos Jalen Robinson eventually had a bicycle kick attempt go wide. In the 18th minute, Stieber's shot from the top of the box skipped wide of Cody Cropper's right-hand post.
Arriola showed some strength to push through Je-Vaughn Watson’s 28th minute challenge before striking a left-footed shot straight at Cropper. After a brief spell that saw the Revs have a bit of the ball, United had their best chance thus far in the 38th minute. A flowing attack saw Stieber cut back wickedly to lose Andrew Farrell before the Hungarian found Acosta. Acosta opted not to shoot - shades of last weekend’s win in Colorado - but the move eventually saw Arriola pick out Mullins, whose header was deflected by Claude Dielna behind for a corner.
United stayed on the front foot. A mistake from Watson let Stieber grab possession in the 41st minute, and his shot forced Cropper into a tricky save. Cropper pushed the ball towards the back post, but no runners could poke it in, and the Revs dealt with the resulting corner kick. Two minutes later, Stieber’s willingness to do the dirty work saw him block a clearance from Antonio Delamea, but Mullins fired the resulting loose ball over from a tight angle.
For all of United’s promising attacks, they nearly went in front via a goalkeeping blunder. Arriola’s 45th minute free kick ran too long for his targets, and Cropper should have claimed easily. Instead, the ball appeared to slip through his hands and off of his chest, falling to a wide open Sean Franklin. Perhaps caught off-guard, Franklin didn’t take his time, and toe-poked the ball over the gaping net from 9 yards.
Both teams struggled to break their opponent down in the early part of the second half, despite several windows to do so. New England’s attempts to switch the field were not handled well by the recipients, while United played several through balls that were nicked out at the last second by Revs defenders.
Even the first real look either way had an element of good fortune to it. Watson’s storming run from left back in the 61st minute survived two attempted tackles, with the ball popping back into Watson’s path both times. Before a third tackle could be made, Watson opted to power the bouncing ball towards goal, where Bill Hamid got down quickly to deny the Jamaican international.
A 68th minute sequence saw the ball pinball around the United penalty area, with Fagundez having a shot blocked before Teal Bunbury - after seeing the ball not float out as he and DeLeon seemed to expect - tried to shoot from along the endline, only for Hamid to stand tall and make the stop.
Lloyd Sam entered for Arriola in the 68th minute as Olsen tried to give his team an attacking lift. It made a difference too, as United took a 71st minute lead on a corner kick won by Sam. Stieber’s initial deliver was just inches from picking out Kofi Opare at the back post. Sam kept the play alive though, swinging the ball back in for Opare, who this time nodded the ball across the goalmouth for Acosta, who was wide open inside the 6 yard box for a tap-in.
The goal lifted the Black-and-Red, who saw a spell of pressure end as Mullins flicked the ball across goal in the 75th minute. Whether it was initially meant as a shot or pass, Stieber ghosted in, but his attempt to dink the ball over the approaching Cropper was glanced wide by the goalkeeper’s shoulder.
In the 78th minute, Mullins was denied by a similar save from Cropper. This time, the attack came from open play, as Stieber’s outside-of-the-foot pass sent Mullins in behind the defense. Mullins did well to shed Dielna, but Cropper did just enough to prevent United from sealing the deal.
Jay Heaps moved his team into a back three in pursuit of a goal, which left United nearly breaking through on the counter several times. Mullins, in particular, appeared to have muscled past Delamea in the 85th minute for what would have been a free look on goal, but the Slovenian poked the ball away at the last moment.
Despite moving into a nebulous 343, New England wasn’t able to muster much. Just as the announcement of three minutes of stoppage time echoed across RFK, Fagundez lashed a shot a couple of yards over the bar after Kamara had knocked a long ball down for him. Hamid had to make one last save, denying Femi Hollinger-Janzen’s tame header just before full time to preserve the win.
United, now on 28 points as the season winds down, is off next weekend due to the international window, and will be back in action on Saturday, September 9th as they host Orlando City.