D.C. United has made it a habit of being the toughest team to beat at home in Major League Soccer. Recently, they’ve also made it a habit of having to win games the hard way to make the former point stick.
Sunday was no exception, as United scored two second-half goals to complete another come-from-behind win at RFK Stadium, a 3-2 decision over the Philadelphia Union to solidify their first-place standing in the Eastern Conference. United now are unbeaten in 11 of their 12 home matches on the season.
Strangely enough, even with the league’s best home record (8-1-3), each of United’s last four wins at RFK coming into Sunday had come after they had fallen a goal behind. Against Philadelphia, United managed to double its arrears in just over three minutes from the start of the contest. Manassas, VA native and former DC United youth product C.J. Sapong scored 21 seconds into the match, the fastest goal in Union history and the seventh-fastest in MLS history. Less than three minutes later, midfielder Sebastien Le Toux scored when his pass to an on-rushing Sapong never reached the forward, yet fooled United deputy keeper Andrew Dykstra as the ball nestled into the far corner of the net.
D.C. United 0, Philadelphia Union 2, 188 seconds elapsed.
United had a chance to cut the lead in half in the 33rd minute when Union captain Maurice Edu barged into Davy Arnaud at the top of the box, leading to a penalty decision. Striker Fabián Espíndola, however, ballooned his left-footed penalty attempt high over the bar, maintaining the Union’s two-goal advantage.
That cushion Philadelphia enjoyed lasted only four more minutes, as striker Álvaro Saborio, who recently joined the squad after being traded from Real Salt Lake, volleyed home a cross from wingback Chris Korb in the 37th minute to cut the Union’s lead in half going into intermission, as well as give his team the momentum shift it needed to spark another home rally.
The comeback was complete in the 66th minute, as Espíndola’s powerful left-footed strike from 25 yards out was too hot to handle cleanly for Union goalkeeper Brian Sylvestre, allowing for midfielder Nick DeLeon to swoop in for the rebound and tap home to tie the score.
Though reeling from the two DC United tallies to tie the game, Philadelphia had a chance to retake the lead in the 78th minute, as Sapong was first to reach a through ball in a race with the keeper Dykstra at the top of the box. Sarong’s chip over Dykstra smacked off the crossbar, keeping the game all square.
On the ensuing rush down the other end, the ball was played out wide for Korb, who sent in a wicked cross that found the foot of Espíndola, who made up for his penalty miss by tucking home the cross in the 79th minute to give D.C. United the lead, and eventually, the victory.
Just about a month ago, the Union had defeated DC United at PPL Park in the Round of 16 of the U.S. Open Cup, part of a stretch in which the Union went unbeaten in five of their last six games in all competitions coming into Sunday. The loss saw the Union miss out on a chance to place themselves in the top six of the Eastern Conference standings in MLS, which guarantees a playoff spot at the end of the season.
[Cover photo (Fabián Espíndola, Sebastien Le Toux) courtesy of MLSsoccer.com]