With the playoffs fast approaching, D.C. United seems to have finally hit a solid run of form, as they dominated the Chicago Fire 3-1 at RFK Stadium on Saturday night in a comprehensive display of attacking, possession-oriented soccer.
Christian Gomez, Alecko Eskandarian and Ben Olsen all scored before the half in a result that could give United's other rivals cause for concern, as the Black-and-Red clicked in all areas and fulfilled the ample promise which they have until now only shown in glimpses.
As usual, United started brightly, controlling play from the opening whistle, and in the eighth minute Jaime Moreno again displayed his passing wizardry to create United's first. He waited for Gomez's run before slotting the ball through to the Argentinian. Gomez's first touch seemed to betray him, but it turned out that he was only setting up for a curling right-footed shot to the far post which was tipped by Fire goalkeeper Henry Ring but still found net, giving Gomez his first goal in a United jersey.
Four minutes later, Gomez impressed again with a surging run into the Fire box past a sliding Scott Buete, and his delicately lofted far post cross was headed down and just wide by an onrushing Eskandarian.
In the 20th minute, United then scored again with a startling strike from Eskandarian. The second-year attacker received the ball at the corner of the Fire box and lashed an angled shot that didn't look threatening until it clipped Buete and flew past Ring.
The shell-shocked Fire finally began to string together some passes, but their normally explosive strike duo of Nate Jaqua and Damani Ralph was being closely shadowed by the United back three of Ryan Nelsen, Mike Petke and Bryan Namoff.
Chicago playmaker Andy Williams was finally seeing more of the ball, but when his shot from the top of the D.C. box was blocked by Brian Carroll in the 27th minute, it only set off another United counter. Gomez slotted a perfect ball into Moreno's path and when the Bolivian cut past Ring, the Fire netminder took him down.
Referee Mark Geiger blew for the penalty with no hesitation, and when Moreno stepped up for the spot kick, 3-0 looked like a foregone conclusion. But surprisingly, he hit his shot far too close to the athletic Ring and the young 'keeper dove to his left to slap the ball away.
In the 35th minute Dema Kovalenko, in his new spot on the left wing, sent in a dangerous cross that Nelsen flicked on for Moreno, but again, his half-cross/half-shot from a sharp angle rolled through the six-yard box without a United player in the area.
Seconds later, play transitioned to the other box, where Jaqua slipped the ball into the path of a far-ranging Kelly Gray, who slalomed through the United defense and unleashed a well-hit slot just high and wide, allowing Nick Rimando a sigh of relief.
In the 40th minute, another pretty attack from the Black-and-Red led to another goal, this time from the work of an inspirational Olsen. Moreno broke free on the left side, then centered for Olsen's near post run in the box. With Ring drawn out, Olsen tapped the ball towards the empty net. C.J. Brown raced back to clear his line, but he was in an awkward position and was very unlucky to see it trickle off his foot over the line.
After the interval, United came out aggressively.and continued to dominate possession. In the 55th minute, Eskandarian hammered yet another shot from his preferred left side after another perfectly weighted set-up from Gomez, but his one-timer spun wide of the near post and nestled in the outside netting.
Chicago's night was epitomized in the 79th minute as Gray, one of their strongest performers, found space at the top of the D.C. area but fired well over the crossbar, screaming in frustration.
The Fire finally caught a break when Geiger made a dubious penalty call in injury time, awarding a spot kick for Petke's handball in the box after Nelsen had tackled away from Andy Herron. Despite Nelsen's vociferous objections, Williams stepped up and fired past Rimando into the upper right corner to give Chicago some cold comfort.
The Fire will have to regroup in time for Wednesday's Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup Final at Kansas City, before they return home next Saturday for their next league match against the New England Revolution in a vitally important game for both teams playoff hopes (9 p.m. ET). D.C. United will travel to Columbus on Saturday (7:30 p.m. ET), where they hope to continue their climb up the Eastern Conference standings against the division leaders.
MLSnet.com Man of the Match: Jaime Moreno (D.C. United)
Chicago Fire (7-11-8) vs. D.C. United (8-9-9)
September 18, 2004 -- RFK Stadium
DC -- Christian Gomez 1 (Jaime Moreno 11, Alecko Eskandarian 2) 8
DC -- Alecko Eskandarian 10 (Jaime Moreno 12) 20
DC -- Ben Olsen 3 (Jaime Moreno 13) 40
CHI -- Andy Williams 4 (penalty kick) 92+
Chicago Fire -- Henry Ring, Denny Clanton (Evan Whitfield 46), C.J. Brown, Jim Curtin, Kelly Gray, Andy Williams, Jesse Marsch (Dipsy Selolwane 77), Logan Pause, Scott Buete (Andy Herron 46), Nate Jaqua, Damani Ralph.
Substitutes Not Used: D.J. Countess, Leonard Griffin.
TOTAL SHOTS: 6 (Kelly Gray 3); SHOTS ON GOAL: 2 (Andy Williams 2); FOULS: 17 (3 tied with 3); OFFSIDES: 1 (Nate Jaqua 1); CORNER KICKS: 3 (Andy Williams 2); SAVES: 6 (Henry Ring 6)
D.C. United -- Nick Rimando, Mike Petke, Ryan Nelsen, Bryan Namoff, Dema Kovalenko, Brian Carroll, Christian Gomez (Freddy Adu 71), Ben Olsen, Joshua Gros (Earnie Stewart 70), Alecko Eskandarian (Brandon Prideaux 88), Jaime Moreno.
Substitutes Not Used: Kevin Ara, Ezra Hendrickson, Nana Kuffour, Troy Perkins, David Stokes, Jason Thompson.
TOTAL SHOTS: 13 (Alecko Eskandarian 5); SHOTS ON GOAL: 9 (Christian Gomez 3); FOULS: 23 (Mike Petke 7); OFFSIDES: 1 (Alecko Eskandarian 1); CORNER KICKS: 5 (Alecko Eskandarian 4); SAVES: 1 (Nick Rimando 1)
DC -- Ben Olsen (caution; Delaying a Restart) 39
Referee: Mark Geiger
Referee's Assistants: -Chris Strickland; Paul Scott
4th Official: Ben Jones
Time of Game: 1:50
All statistics contained in this boxscore are unofficial.