Before the season, few would’ve predicted D.C. United were Eastern Conference contenders, but after they cruised past the New York Red Bulls 4-1 Sunday night, that’s exactly what they are.
Amid heavy rain at RFK Stadium, the star of the night was Chris Pontius, who scored his first professional hat trick, as United ran out to a four-goal lead before New York’s Thierry Henry pulled one back with a 70th-minute free kick. Rookie Nick Deleon scored the other goal for D.C.
The win stopped the Red Bulls’ four-game unbeaten streak, and saw United jump up to second place in the Eastern Conference.
Henry’s goal took his season total to eight, level with San Jose’s Chris Wondolowski for the lead in the Golden Boot race.
D.C. took the initiative early, and Pontius opened the scoring in the 8th minute. After stripping the ball from Henry, Pontius made his way towards the goal, and with a clear sight from outside the box, unleashed a powerful 25-yard shot that dipped and beat Ryan Meara.
The Red Bulls, who started without Joel Lindpere in the midfield and with first-time starter Connor Lade in for Roy Miller at left back, struggled defensively, battling the elements and United’s attack.
But New York created several decent scoring opportunities. Midfielder Medhi Ballouchy had a shot from a corner headed away near the line in the 24th minute. Moments later, Henry had a look at goal, but his long-range effort was saved by Joe Willis.
Pontius second goal, in the 32nd minute, ended those hopes, though. Maicon Santos worked his way down the left flank and beat three defenders. His cross hit Meara and then deflected off Lade before falling right in front of goal. Pontius had little to do, and slammed home the ball.
DeLeon made it 3-0 four minutes later. Dwayne De Rosario picked up possession off another New York turnover, quickly fed DeLeon in the box. The rookie midfielder fired a one-time shot that ricocheted off defender Markus Holgersson, leaving ‘keeper Meara with no chance.
In the 69th minute, Pontius completed his hat trick. A long ball pumped forward from Willis fell for Pontius, who slalomed through the center of the New York defense, skipped past Victor Palsson’s last-ditch slide tackle, and slotted the shot under Meara.
Henry finally got the Red Bulls – who lead the league in goals per game – on the board in the 72nd minute through an inch-perfect freekick. But it was merely consolation for a team still searching for consistency.
United host the Houston Dynamo next weekend at RFK Stadium, while the Red Bulls head home to face New England at Red Bull Arena on Saturday.
Lineups and boxscore (MLSsoccer.com)
Opta Chalkboard (MLSsoccer.com)