With halftime approaching Saturday, D.C. United found itself up a man and down a goal against FC Dallas, MLS’s early front-runner. United had not done well with an advantage a week earlier, spilling a sure victory by conceding a late equalizer at Columbus.
“We were a team that was so hungry because we felt like we lost three points last week,” captain Bobby Boswell said, “and we didn’t want it to happen again this week.”
United capitalized this time, scoring on the last touch of the first half and riding Fabian Espindola’s sterling performance to rout the visitors from Texas, 4-1, before 11,172 at RFK Stadium.
With Espindola posting two goals and an assist in a 25-minute span, United (3-2-2) extended its unbeaten streak to five and equaled last year’s win total.
The match turned in the 39th minute when defender Zach Loyd was sent off for a second yellow card. At the time, Dallas (5-2-1) was ahead, thanks to Mauro Diaz’s 13th-minute goal.
“Early, we looked a little hazy,” Coach Ben Olsen said. “Without the red card, we’re in a little bit of trouble.”
United struck as first-half stoppage time was about to expire. Eddie Johnson, the marquee winter acquisition, remains stuck in a prolonged scoring rut, but his cross to Espindola was on the mark for a back-post header.
Although Johnson departed with a hamstring injury early in the second half — a precautionary move, Olsen said — United set the terms.
Espindola was the key, running at defenders and creating opportunities.
“It’s not easy to break teams down when they sit back,” Olsen said. “Fabi is a guy who can unlock that.”
Espindola, the team leader with four goals, received ample help as United moved the ball fluidly and was confident in possession against a shorthanded opponent.
In the 60th minute, Jeff Parke headed Sean Franklin’s cross to Conor Doyle for a rasping drive that tested goalkeeper Chris Seitz. The rebound sprung to Boswell for an authoritative one-timer.
Four minutes later, Espindola split two defenders on the left side of the box and crossed to Franklin for a clever one-touch into the far corner.
In the 69th, Chris Rolfe slipped the ball into a channel for the hard-charging Espindola, who kept the ball aloft with his right foot and finished with his left.
“We learned a little bit of a lesson last weekend,” Rolfe said. “We have the experience to do better in those situations and when it happened tonight, we all turned the switch and said, ‘Okay, we have to do something different.’ ”
Last week United had failed to properly manage a man advantage for 10 minutes and settled for a 1-1 draw with the Crew. This time, there were no such issues. The awful evening worsened for Dallas in the closing moments when midfielder Michel was red-carded, leaving his beleaguered team with nine players.
“It’s been a while since I could sit and enjoy the last five, 10 minutes,” Olsen said after his club’s largest output since August 2012.
United notes: The club has accepted an invitation to play Premier League club Fulham on July 26 at Jacksonville’s EverBank Field. Shahid Khan owns Fulham and the NFL’s Jaguars. United has a league bye that weekend. . . .
Defender Chris Korb made his season debut in the 74th minute, replacing Franklin. Midfielder Luis Silva returned from a three-game injury absence, spelling Espindola in the 79th. . . . United will visit Portland next Saturday.
● SPIRIT 1, RED STARS 0: In Lisle, Ill., Tori Huster scored in the 50th minute as Washington (2-2-0) defeated Chicago (1-1-0) in a National Women’s Soccer League match.