Motivated by a controversial draw with Philadelphia on the weekend, United (12-8-4) generated a wealth of scoring opportunities and enjoyed its largest goal haul in four months to pull within a point of third-place Houston (11-6-8) and Chicago (12-8-5) in MLS’s Eastern Conference.
“We still feel a little bit wronged, and I think it still was a little bit on our minds,” Coach Ben Olsen said. “I am glad we responded in the right way.”
Recent acquisitions Lionard Pajoy and Long Tan scored their first D.C. goals. Dwayne De Rosario moved within one of the 100-goal mark in his MLS regular season career and added an assist in perhaps his most influential display of the summer.
Brandon McDonald also scored, and Perry Kitchen and Marcelo Saragosa (first league start since May 2) formed a surprisingly effective central midfield. Both were in top form, limiting Chicago’s central schemes and supplying the attackers with quality passes.
The player who stood out the most, though, was Andy Najar, a 19-year-old midfielder who, because of injuries and a suspension, was moved to right back for the third time this season. Najar was an overlapping weapon, infiltrating the flank and piercing Chicago’s defense. He assisted on Pajoy’s tiebreaking goal just before halftime and offered energetic bursts and clever footwork.
“I felt comfortable,” he said. “I know it was a big responsibility but I was looking forward to it. I’m glad [Olsen] gave me the chance.”
Asked if he would consider keeping Najar at right back, Olsen initially didn’t say anything and just grinned from ear to ear and nodded repeatedly.
When he did speak about Najar, Olsen said: “He has these unique qualities and they all lend themselves to the modern right back. You look at soccer now, and the outside backs have the ball so much, they have to be good on it, they have to be dynamic, they have to have great engines to get up and back, and they have to be brave in defending. He has a lot of those qualities.”
United went ahead in the 19th minute when Chris Pontius collected a deflected clearance at the top of the penalty area and scuffed a shot toward the far corner. Goalkeeper Sean Johnson took a poor angle on the ball and failed to corral it, allowing De Rosario to sneak behind the defense and finish inside the six-yard box – his first goal since mid-May.
The Fire drew even in the 44th minute on a sharp sequence, capped by Dan Paladini’s confident finish past goalkeeper Bill Hamid. But in stoppage time, Najar maintained balance and possession on the edge of the penalty area before delivering a cross to Pajoy at the back post for a downward header.
“We were surprised by the tying goal,” Pajoy said, “but the team showed great character.”
Six minutes after the break, McDonald awaited Chris Korb’s high ball and, with perfect placement, floated an eight-yard header over Johnson.
United’s inability to capitalize on numerous chances caused discomfort. Chicago’s Gonzalo Segares was left alone on Pavel Pardo’s free kick for a six-yard header in the 75th minute.
Johnson made two excellent saves and Hamid got a touch on Chris Rolfe’s rasping drive before De Rosario counterattacked and crossed to Tan for a 12-yard one-timer in the 89th.
“I think [De Rosario] senses this team needs him now and the teams need him to be great,” Olsen said. “He is inching toward that.”
●CREW 2, TORONTO FC 1: Federico Higuain scored the winning goal in the 58th minute and also had an assist in his home debut to help host Columbus hold off Toronto.
Higuain, who had an assist in his first game with the Crew (9-8-6) on Sunday at Houston, set up Eddie Gaven in the fourth minute and made it 2-0 in the second half. Luis Silva scored in the 71st minute to pull Toronto (5-15-5) within one.
Higuain arrived from Argentina a week ago and helped the Crew score two goals in consecutive games for only the second time this season.
The match was rescheduled from Aug. 11 so the Crew could attend the funeral of teammate Kirk Urso, who died Aug. 5.