D.C. United entered Saturday night’s matchup with the Vancouver Whitecaps in need of a bit of a change in pace.
Having blown second-half leads in their previous two matches, United took the field against Vancouver not only looking to extract a result, but to manage the game better — and if given the chance, finish it off.
United ticked off all of those boxes, riding goals by Bobby Boswell and Chris Rolfe and a Matias Laba red card to a gutsy 2-1 victory over the Western Conference leaders. The result pulls D.C. clear of the New York Red Bulls, leaving them — for the time being — alone atop the Eastern Conference.
“It’s not an easy trip to come up here and take anything away,” United head coach Ben Olsen told the media in attendance after the match. “Obviously the red card helps but I thought up until that point we were in good form and I’m just happy for the guys that we can come away with this win. [Closing the game out] is something we’ve talked about and addressed, and when you get over that hurdle, it feels good.”
United’s night didn’t start well. Vancouver jumped ahead after just 70 seconds on a Pedro Morales strike, and the ‘Caps looked energetic throughout most of the game’s opening stanza. Undeterred, United evened the match just seven minutes later on Boswell's header.
D.C. were given an added boost just minutes from the halftime whistle when Laba picked up his second yellow, leaving the ‘Caps down a man for the balance of the match.
Still, the Whitecaps continued to apply pressure. In the 58th minute, D.C.’s task got a tad more complicated when Andrew Dykstra, the club’s backup keeper, was forced out of the match with an apparent ankle injury. Third-stringer Travis Worra, who to that point had never played a minute of MLS action, took his place and preserved the result.
“I can’t lie,” Worra said after the match. “I’d be lying if I told you I wasn’t nervous or excited. At all times, though, you have to be prepared to play. All day today I prepared, I watched tape - I acted like I was going to play today. As a backup, that’s what you have to do.
“I was very lucky to have my family here - they live in Seattle now, not far from here. To have my mom and dad run up to me [after the match] and cry in my arms, that was the best moment of all. It’s something I’ve dreamt of since I was a little kid."
The game also marked the return of one of United’s most prolific offensive pieces, Fabian Espindola. The Argentine forward — back after completing a six-game suspension handed to him after United’s final playoff match of 2014 — went the distance and looked active throughout the match, occupying defenders and nearly finding his way onto the scoresheet midway through the second half. Of particular importance was his interplay with fellow forward Rolfe; despite Espindola’s absence, the two fit together seamlessly.
“I thought he did great,” Olsen said of Espindola. "For him to get through the 90 [minutes] physically is pretty impressive - he’s a very dangerous player, he didn’t get a lot of looks on goal; I think once he gets in there and we get a bit more of a rhythm, that will change.
"Rolfe is just a classy player. His heart-rate doesn’t get too high in front of goal -- he’s pretty even-keeled and a wonderful finisher, so when he gets his chances he does very well with them."
Pablo Maurer covers D.C. United for MLSsoccer.com.