D.C. United ends it road winless streak at 21 games with victory over Philadelphia Union

D.C. United had not handled late-game prosperity well during its previous two trips, and with a precarious lead in the waning moments at PPL Park on Saturday, it was ripe for more disappointment.

But with Philadelphia threatening to extend United’s winless rut on the road, United did not make any catastrophic mistakes. It showed character and poise. And bolstered by goalkeeper Bill Hamid’s terrific work, United claimed a 1-0 victory over the Union for its first regular season road win since October 2012.

Chris Rolfe scored in the sixth minute, and United (4-3-2) endured heavy pressure in the second half to end a 21-game road skid, six shy of New York’s MLS record.

“It’s huge for our confidence and our belief that we can close out games,” Rolfe said. “We’ve learned from our mistakes.”

Three weeks ago, despite a man advantage, United yielded a 90th-minute goal and settled for a tie at Columbus. Last week, on the verge of a draw at Portland, United surrendered a goal deep in stoppage time.

“They were tired of hearing about managing games,” United Coach Ben Olsen said of his players. “It sank in a little bit. We’ve got a long way to go, but there is still a real character about this team that they can grind out results even when it’s not the best soccer day for us.”

United accomplished it despite the absence of injured starters Sean Franklin and Nick DeLeon and another scoreless performance by marquee acquisition Eddie Johnson.

In fairness, Johnson had an apparent first-half goal disallowed by an improper offside call. Nonetheless, barring unexpected exclusion, he will report to U.S. World Cup training camp Tuesday at Stanford without a goal to his name since last fall when he was employed by Seattle. U.S. Coach Juergen Klinsmann will make final cuts by June 2.

“It doesn’t concern me at all,” Johnson said. “For me, it’s keep putting myself in dangerous spots. I just feel like I can’t get a break right now. If I am picked for camp, I know what it’s like. I’ve been in those camps.”

United continued to compensate for Johnson’s absent touch. After collecting Davy Arnaud’s pass on the left side of the penalty area, Cristian Fernandez intended to drive a low cross into the six-yard box. His effort caromed off defender Raymon Gaddis’s ankle and floated to Rolfe at the penalty spot.

Rolfe did not give the Union any time to close on him. In one flowing act, he chested the ball to his left foot for an authoritative volley into the right corner — his second goal since arriving from Chicago last month and 50th in MLS regular season outings.

The Union (1-5-5 and winless in nine straight) was a mild threat in the first half. United’s Fabian Espindola was gifted an opportunity in the 34th minute but missed the near corner — one of several spoiled chances by United in the open field.

Philadelphia’s introduction of Danny Cruz for injured Brian Carroll at the start of the second half raised the tempo and increased the pressure, but Hamid came to the rescue in the 64th minute with two extraordinary saves in rapid succession.

Andrew Wenger freed himself at the top of the box with a clever touch. Hamid made a one-on-one save. Conor Casey tried to sweep the rebound into the right side of the net. From the ground, Hamid reached back and to the left with both arms fully extended to interrupt the shot.

“They were bombing us,” captain Bobby Boswell said. “It was one of those situations where you say to them, ‘It’s not going to go in today for you guys, sorry.’ We saw the game out. A lot of people were questioning whether we could do that.”

Soccer notes: The Washington Spirit (2-3-0) is expected to welcome back five players from U.S. and Canadian national team assignments — Americans Ashlyn Harris, Ali Krieger and Crystal Dunn and Canada’s Diana Matheson and Robyn Gayle — for Sunday’s National Women’s Soccer League match at FC Kansas City (2-3-1).

Steven Goff is The Post’s soccer writer. His beats include D.C. United, MLS and the international game, as well as local college basketball.
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