Needing just a point to secure a first-place conference finish, D.C. United met the Chicago Fire on a brisk Saturday evening at RFK Stadium.
United did that and more, securing a 2-1 win over the Fire and pulling six points ahead of the second-place New England Revolution with only one game remaining. D.C. will finish atop the Eastern Conference for the first time since their Supporters’ Shield-winning 2007 campaign.
Just a year after finishing dead last, United have now set the record for biggest single-season turnaround in league history with a 42 point swing.
Neither team seemed anxious to grab the opening goal in the game’s opening 20 minutes. United got their first decent chance at pulling ahead 23 minutes in when outside back Sean Franklin found Davy Arnaud 10 yards from goal. Arnaud took a touch and played the ball to the end line before floating a ball across the face of goal to an onrushing Bobby Boswell at the far post. Boswell’s attempt at a volley was easily parried from goal by Fire goalkeeper Kyle Reynish.
Chicago responded in kind five minutes later when Quincy Amarikwa found strike partner Florent Sinama-Pongolle alone at the penalty spot. The Frenchman struck a low, driven effort that was deflected away from goal by United keeper Bill Hamid’s excellent kick save.
31 minutes in, United would draw first blood. Nick Deleon collected the ball near midfield and took a few touches forward before finding Eddie Johnson on the near sideline. The former Seattle Sounder forward’s cross was well struck, and Chris Pontius’ header from four yards out was even better, skimming just inside the far post - out of reach of Reynish. It was Pontius’ first league goal since September 2013.
The second half proved a bit more wide-open than the first. In the 53rd, D.C. would double their lead on a bad giveaway by Chicago defender Patrick Ianni, who mis-hit a backpass directly into the path of Johnson. Johnson was all too happy to provide a clinical finish, stepping over the ball before striking it into the upper corner at the far post.
Chicago would make things interesting in the 67th minute when Patrick Nyarko and Harry Shipp combined nicely for the Fire’s opener. Nyarko played a perfectly weighted ball through for Shipp, who dribbled to his right and struck a low shot which eluded Hamid, nestling into the far side netting.
They nearly tied the match a minute later when Amarikwa deftly maneuvered around a series of United defenders and hit a cross towards the far post, directly to the feet of Sinama-Pongolle, who couldn’t turn his attempt towards goal. Forced to weather a barrage of late United attempts, it would be the Fire’s last quality chance of the match.
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