Two teams writing improbable comeback stories met at RFK stadium on Wednesday evening.
After a 2013 that saw them finish second-to-last in the Eastern Conference, perennial cellar-dwellars Toronto FC entered the match in playoff position.
D.C. United -- the only team that finished lower than TFC in the east last year -- took the pitch on Wednesday in the midst of an even more noteworthy change in form: the black-and-red have gone from worst to first.
The win leaves United within a point of first place Sporting Kansas City with a game in hand and leaves them eleven points clear of TFC, who remain in third.
Johnson’s strike came just eight minutes into an eventful first half.
United midfielder Perry Kitchen collected a pass on the right flank, taking a touch towards the end line before crossing the ball to Johnson, who found himself perfectly positioned to comfortably nod the ball home from six yards out. After a slow start, Johnson has found the back of the net in three consecutive matches.
TFC would nearly equalize a minute later. US national team standout Michael Bradley collected the ball just outside the box, playing a perfectly weighted through ball to Dominic Oduro. Oduro’s finish would leave a bit to be desired, as the former Columbus Crew midfielder’s attempt skimmed just wide of the far post.
D.C. looked to double their lead in the 32nd minute, but Rolfe’s headed attempt found the wrong side of the near post. About five minutes later, Oduro and Bradley would combine again, with similar results - the Ghanaian’s attempt was dealt with expertly by United keeper Bill Hamid.
TFC took another stab at equalizing in the opening moments of a more slow-paced second half as Jermain Defoe played his strike partner Luke Moore through from the top of the box. Moore’s chipped effort found its way directly into the hands of Hamid.
Rolfe would double United’s lead in the sixtieth. United midfielder Nick DeLeon cut into the area and looked to have earned a penalty kick after being fouled by Warren Creavalle. Referee Chris Penso, however, wisely played the advantage and Rolfe ran onto the ball, striking a blistering shot from 16 yards out and easily beating TFC keeper Joe Bendik.
Seven minutes later, D.C. would put the game out of reach with a bit of help from rookie of the year candidate Nick Hagglund. DeLeon bossed TFC defender Justin Morrow off the ball 20 yards from goal, rounded Hagglund and struck a shot towards goal. His attempt caromed off Bendik, and Hagglund’s attempt at a headed clearance found its way into his own net.
D.C. will hit the road to face the Houston Dynamo on Sunday evening, while TFC will remain on the road, traveling to face the Impact in Montreal.
DCU Lineup: Hamid, Boswell, Korb, Franklin, Birnbaum, Rolfe (Doyle 74'), Arnaud (Jeffrey 82'), DeLeon, Kitchen, Johnson, Silva (Neal 69')
TOR Lineup: Bendik, Orr (Osorio 65'), Morrow, Hagglund, Creavalle, Warner, Oduro (Lovitz 66'), Jackson, Bradley, Defoe, Moore (Gilberto 73')
Goals: Johnson 8', Rolfe 59', Hagglund (OG) 67'
Discipline: Warner 36', Arnaud 42', Korb 54', Bradley 68', Johnson 90'