Down by two just 32 minutes into their match against the Chicago Fire, things were looking bleak on Saturday evening for a D.C. United side forced to play without their two first-choice strikers: Fabian Espindola and Eddie Johnson.
Johnson had been slated to make the trip to Toyota Park but didn’t travel after post-concussion symptoms cropped back up on Friday, while Espindola sat the match out while serving a one-game suspension earned in his club’s match against the Red Bulls some 10 days earlier.
But this incarnation of D.C. United – a side that has soldiered on through injuries and setbacks alike –had no intention of folding it up and heading home for the evening. Luis Silva scored from the spot late in the first half and sank a wondrous free kick early on in the second stanza to equalize before Bobby Boswell poked home a scrappy effort 14 minutes later to give United the lead.
Though the lead would be short-lived – the Fire found an equalizer of their own just 10 minutes after Boswell’s strike – the 3-3 draw proved valuable to United, who now sit three points clear of Sporting Kansas City atop the Eastern Conference. Chicago continue to drift out of the playoff picture and set an all-time mark that they probably never wanted to: the draw was their sixteenth of the year, an MLS record.
After the match, United head coach Ben Olsen expressed his satisfaction with the result to the media in attendance.
"That type of game – it was a blue-collar game – a lot of balls in the air and 50-50’s, scrambles in the box," he said. "Again, to get out of here 3-3 when you were down 2-0 at some point, I think we’re happy."
United looked weary from the get-go, perhaps still feeling the effects of a mid-week CONCACAF Champions League match against Waterhouse FC in Kingston, Jamaica that featured many of their regular starters. Against the fire, United featured Homegrown product Michael Seaton – making just his second ever start for the black-and-red – and newcomer Samuel Inkoom, who got the nod in midfield.
“We were down 2-0, travel-weary early in the game – just a little bit out of sync in the first half. I thought our subs came in and really changed the game. Their energy was good and the entire team just raised it a level in the second half. It’s not always perfect, you don’t always play at your best and you find ways to keep inching along.”
The evening’s biggest contributor, however, was Silva, who shouldered the attacking responsibility in the absence of Johnson and Espindola. To Olsen, the youngster is as important a piece to United as any other.
"I think he takes a bit more responsibility out on the field,” said Olsen. "What a classy free kick. Stepping up and taking the PK, he’s been as big as anybody this year for us. It’s nice to see him continue his scoring form.”
“It was the first time [Espindola’s] not here and [Johnson’s] not here and I thought I had to step in there,” added Silva. "I try to do my best, my teammates around me helped me a lot and we were able to get a point even though we’re always looking to get a win.”
Now removed from their most grueling stretch of games of the year, United will get a bit of a respite: all of their remaining opponents are Eastern Conference foes, allowing them a break from their hectic travel schedule. It’s a welcome break for Olsen.
"These guys are looking forward to going home for a week,” said the head coach, "and playing some games at RFK."