D.C. United-Chivas USA preview: Luis Silva finds scoring touch at right time


Luis Silva, shown earlier this month in D.C. United’s 2-1 win at Toronto, has scored four goals in four games. (Nick Turchiaro/Usa Today Sports)

As D.C. United’s practice ended with a team-wide stretching exercise Friday morning, forward Luis Silva bounded with energy. He was one of the first players to jump to his feet, wearing a smile as he helped lift teammate Chris Rolfe off his back. He laughed with another teammate before taking a swig of a protein drink as he came off the pitch at RFK Stadium, replenishing a body that had kept him from a moment like this just three months ago.

Silva missed a month of the season because of an ankle injury suffered in late March. It was an unlucky break for a tireless young player. Silva was forced to quietly recover, slowly piecing together short appearances in matches before making his first start back on June 7.

“Frustrating at times,” Silva said of the process. “You just got to play through it. It happens to everybody and you just got to try and make the best of it.”

The results since then have been anything but quiet. Silva has enjoyed one of the best offensive bursts of his career in the last six weeks. He has posted four goals in four games, including a crafty score in a 2-1 win over San Jose last week. Silva will look to continue his offensive production in Sunday night’s home match against Chivas USA, as United copes with the absence of injured star Fabian Espindola.

“I think it’s just me getting fit, in game shape. Coming off an injury, it’s hard to get fit . . . 100 percent like I was before my injury,” Silva said. “The team has been playing great…there’s a lot of unselfishness on the field.”

D.C. United (9-5-4, 31 points) sits one point behind Sporting Kansas City in the Eastern Conference standings, and has won two straight after dropping a bitter home match to Seattle three weeks ago. Silva has started just five matches since June 7, but has quickly established himself as a centerpiece in three consecutive road wins. He scored his first hat track since high school in a 4-2 win over Montreal in mid-June, and his goal against San Jose in the 25th minute proved to be the difference after the Earthquakes pushed for a late second-half rally.

Silva’s streak is reminiscent of the middle of last season, when he scored goals in his first three games with United after being acquired from Toronto in July — and a year later, the investment is paying off at an opportune time with Espindola out at least another week with a knee injury. Espindola, an early season MVP candidate with seven goals and eight assists in 15 matches, returned to practice Wednesday.

Chivas USA (6-7-5) is in seventh place in the Western Conference, but is one of the league’s hottest teams at the moment. The Los Angeles-based club has won four straight after opening the season with just two wins in three months. Chivas USA boasts one of the league’s bright young players in 21-year-old Erick Torres, who has scored in five straight matches and is third in MLS with 13 goals this season.

“They have great service from their wingers. Torres has been scoring a lot for them. He comes up in great spots and finds great spots in the box and will punish you,” D.C. United defender Steven Birnbaum said. “The biggest thing for us is just staying turned on 90-plus minutes and trying to keep our runners locked in.”

Birnbaum, a rookie who was selected second overall in the 2014 MLS SuperDraft, has been consistently tested on the back line with veteran defender Jeff Parke out of the lineup the past five games. United has adopted a mentality of “grinding out games” on the road, Birnbaum said, which bodes well for the team considering seven of its next 10 are away. But even though Silva has helped spark the offense to eight goals in the last three road wins, D.C. United must now find a way to capitalize at home, where it has scored just two goals in its last three matches.

“They’re coming here to get a win,” Silva said of Chivas USA. “We have a mentality that we can beat any team. Hopefully we get those three points.”

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