D.C. United took a shock lead over league leaders Toronto FC in the first half, but had to settle for a 1-1 draw after playing the final 46 minutes with ten men. Kofi Opare opened the scoring in the 6th minute for United, but Lloyd Sam’s sending off before halftime put the lead in jeopardy. An unfortunate own goal credited to Steve Birnbaum handed TFC their equalizer early in the second half, but United held tough from there despite intense pressure.
The draw gave United their first point in seven games, ending a six game winning streak that effectively ended their hopes of making the playoffs this year. The last time United had avoided defeat was back on June 21st, when they beat Atlanta United 2-1 at RFK Stadium.
A week after the 4-0 dismantling at the hands of Minnesota United, head coach Ben Olsen started nine of the same eleven. The only two changes were Jared Jeffrey coming in for the injured Ian Harkes, while Bobby Boswell was dropped in favor of Opare.
The match-up between the best and worst teams in the league actually started out in United’s favor, defying all odds. Sam flicked a pass to Luciano Acosta, who picked out the surging run of Deshorn Brown. From the top of the box, Brown shot first time, but his effort skipped wide of the far post.
Nick DeLeon and Acosta threatened in the 5th minute, but a surprising start from the Black-and-Red was awarded moments later, when Opare scored his first goal of the season. Sam’s out-swinging corner went right to the middle of the box, and Opare rose highest, nodding past Alex Bono to give United a 1-0 lead. It was the Black-and-Red’s first headed goal from a set piece in 2017.
That gave United the early upper hand, and they continued to keep Toronto on their heels, even if the Black-and-Red weren’t creating a bevy of chances. It was only a matter of time though before Toronto started getting their chances, and from a promising position in the 19th minute, Sebastian Giovinco fizzed a free kick just over the goal. Bill Hamid seemed to have it covered, but it was a reminder that even a flat TFC could wake up at any time.
A turnover in midfield helped create Toronto’s next chance, in the 26th minute. Eriq Zavaleta collected the loose ball, and quickly found Giovinco in the attacking third. Giovinco worked himself into the box on the right hand side, but his angled shot was easily saved.
The Italian superstar was once again probing for an equalizer in the 28th minute. Victor Vazquez threaded a through ball beyond United’s backline, letting Giovinco run onto the ball in the box. Giovinco one-timed a left footed shot, but Hamid was quick to get down to make the difficult save.
The game from that point died down, as neither team really threatened for the rest of the half. But United’s night got tougher in the 44th minute, when Sam received the second red card of his MLS career. Sam and Chris Mavinga were both chasing down a ball near the sideline, but Mavinga was first to the ball. Sam dove in from behind, taking Mavinga down with a nasty tackle. Allen Chapman went straight to the back pocket, and Sam could have few complaints.
The Black-and-Red were going to have to spend the second half defending while down a man, but they gifted the Reds an equalizer early on, dooming any chance United have of getting three points from the game. Jozy Altidore corralled a ball in the box for Toronto, trying to find a teammate to help in the box. That created a scrum in front of goal, and Jeffrey’s attempt to clear the ball out for a corner hit off of Steve Birnbaum, bouncing past Hamid for an own goal in the 52nd minute.
But United - who have typically let bad news like that torpedo their resolve in 2017 - didn’t allow themselves to be outworked from that point in the game. Giovinco had a shooting opportunity from the top of the box in the 56th minute, but his effort was blocked by Opare.
United had few forays forward, and when they did break, they weren’t able to muster anything to test keeper Alex Bono. But at the same time, they weren’t breaking defensively, stoutly defending all the numbers that Toronto were throwing into the box. The 441 United started the half in eventually became a 531 with Chris Odoi-Atsem - who impressed during his 13 minute stint off the bench - coming in along the right flank for Acosta.
Giovinco had another look in the 75th minute, this time from a short corner. But the shot from Giovinco was continuously rising, and Hamid let the shot go over for a goal kick. But that was it from Toronto in terms of creating danger, as TFC were continuously frustrated by United’s commitment.
United, with 19 points from 23 games, returns to action next Saturday, when they host Real Salt Lake at RFK Stadium.