WASHINGTON — D.C. United have regained their winning form. And they've done so in a very big way, and at a very good time.
Two weeks after snapping a six-game winless streak that lasted two months, D.C. were dominant in their drubbing of the last-place Chicago Fire on Sunday afternoon, riding goals from Chris Pontius, Bobby Boswell, Fabian Espindola, and Alvaro Saborio to a 4-0 victory in front of 20,104 at a frigid RFK Stadium.
Chicago entered the match with little at stake; sitting at the bottom of the Eastern Conference, little more than pride was on the line for a team whose playoff aspirations disappeared weeks ago. United, on the other hand, entered the match badly needing a result — not only to build form entering the Audi 2015 MLS Cup Playoffs, but to take a massive step towards earning a first-round bye as one of the top two seeds in the East.
Neither team looked particularly eager from the onset, trading half-chances throughout the game’s opening 20 minutes. Fire attacker Harry Shipp took Chicago’s first crack at goal about 18 minutes in, a speculative effort form 20 yards out that was easily collected by United ‘keeper Bill Hamid.
D.C. responded with its first chance at the half-hour mark when United forward Espindola played a bending ball to the penalty spot off a free kick. Though a Fire defender cleared the ball from immediate danger, it fell to D.C. midfielder Nick DeLeon at the top of the box, but his full volley whistled directed at Chicago goalie Jon Busch.
As the half wore on, D.C. began to carve out the more clear opportunities, and Pontius broke the lull just before the break. United midfielder Chris Rolfe collected the ball inside the Fire half, and ran towards goal with two defenders on his back. Just as he went to play the ball towards Pontius, who was making a run behind the Chicago defense, Fire midfielder Razvan Cocis dispossessed him, but only managed to knock the ball into the path of Pontius. Pontius, who never broke stride, bodied off his defender and rounded Busch for a well-placed, tight-angle finish.
A bit of trickery nearly got United another goal on the other side of the halftime whistle. In the 53rd, Espindola lined up over a free kick 20 yards out, running over it on an apparent dummy — but tapping it to Rolfe instead. Rolfe’s right-footed effort was excellent, but Busch managed to get a mitt to it as he dove to his left, palming the ball away from goal.
Despite keeping an edge in possession and chance creation, D.C. pushed for another goal in order to put the game to bed and got the all-important second goal in the 67th minute. Espindola swung in a corner to the near edge of the six-yard box, where Boswell rose to meet it. The defender’s header was picture-perfect — drifting away from goal, the former Dynamo center back redirected the service into the far side netting.
Moments later, United got its third when DeLeon fed Espindola on the near sideline, and the Argentine took a few steps towards the box before sending a low cross towards the area. Unfortunately for Chicago, it deflected off the outstretched foot of his defender and past a helpless Busch inside the near post.
In the 80th minute, the rout concluded with United’s fourth – when second-half substitute Saborio was well-positioned to take advantage of a loose ball in the box, hammering it home from eight yards out to cap D.C.’s scoring.
United travel to Columbus for their final match of the season next Saturday afternoon; a win in that match ensures that they’ll earn a first-round bye, while a tie also gives them a good shot at doing so. A loss, however, and D.C. would host a still-to-be-determined opponent in a play-in game.
Chicago will put a cap on their season when they welcome the New York Red Bulls for their home finale next Saturday.