D.C. United and the Columbus Crew entered their matchup on Saturday evening with something in common: roster turnover. Both teams rebuilt their squads from the inside out following a disappointing 2013 campaign - United's starting XI featured seven new faces, while Columbus took the pitch with four newcomers.
In the end, it would be Columbus who'd play more like a team, while United showed much of the uncertainty one would expect from a squad with so many new faces. A Federico Higuain brace and a Jairo Arrieta strike led the Crew to a 3-0 victory in front of 13,840 at RFK Stadium.
The win marked the first for Columbus's first-year head coach Gregg Berhalter. United remain winless in 13 straight league matches, dating back to August of last season.
Both teams traded half-chances during an uneventful opening quarter hour. Four minutes in, newly acquired left back Cristian "Christian" Fernandez gave United their first chance of the evening, striking an ambitious ball from 40 yards out that sailed just over the bar. Columbus countered with several attempts of their own, all well off the mark.
First, off-season acquisitions Giancarlo Gonzalez and Hector Jimenez combined with Josh Williams to set up Arrieta for the Crew opener 18 minutes in. Jimenez one-timed a pass from Gonzalez to a streaking Wiliams on the right flank, and Williams struck a curling, one-touch cross to Arrieta, who's sliding effort found got past outstretched goalkeeper Bill Hamid.
Then, in the 27th minute, Columbus doubled their advantage. United midfielder Perry Kitchen and Crew defender Michael Parkhurst grappled while racing for a loose ball in the box, with referee Andres Pfefferokorn ruling that Kitchen committed a foul in the exchange. Higuain converted the ensuing penalty kick.
For the most part, Columbus contented themselves with sitting back and defending in the second half, while United attempted to push forward in search of an opener of their own. US star Eddie Johnson, who signed a new Designated Player contract this week, searched for space, but was smothered or subdued again and again by the Crew's Parkhurst and Giancarlo Gonzalez.
D.C. nearly got back into the match five minutes into the second stanza. Nick Deleon played a bending cross into the box, which Columbus keeper Steve Clark tipped goalwards. A well-positioned Parkhurst, however, cleared the ball off the goal line. Despite a series of offensive-minded substitutions, it would be D.C.'s only genuine chance at goal until the 86th minute when a scramble in the Crew area after a corner kick saw the ball fall to Christian. His shot from the penalty spot was blocked at the last second by Justin Meram.
Meram then forced Hamid into a fine, diving save in 77th minute, when his shot from the top of the D was deflected on its way goalward.
There was nothing Hamid could do about the Higuain's shot in the 90th minute, though, as the Argentine tapped home the Crew's third goal after Meram found him wide open running into the box.
Neither team is in action next weekend. Columbus will host the Philadelphia Union on March 22, while D.C. will travel north to face yet another re-shaped team, Toronto FC, on the same day.