Instead, United had to wait until the 60th minute and beyond to secure a 2-0 victory over the Rapids in front of 11,593 at RFK Stadium.
Dwayne De Rosario struck in the 25th minute and Hamdi Salihi maintained his scoring form with a second-half goal as United (6-4-3) rebounded from Saturday’s setback in Houston and extended its home unbeaten streak to six.
Despite another day of lineup changes, United was cool on the ball, exploited the flanks and was synchronized for almost the entire evening.
“You could tell we had some soccer players out there, some guys who really know how to move the ball,” Coach Ben Olsen said. “It’s never easy to go away from ‘your starting 11’ but we built depth and we have trust in it. We did a very good job, to the man.”
While United’s high-profile finishers provided the goals, Branko Boskovic orchestrated the attack and Lewis Neal supplied decisive crosses from the left wing. Boskovic started for just the third time, Neal the second.
United’s battered back line was also in form, conceding few opportunities to the Rapids (5-6-0).
“With guys injured, it’s going to take that effort from everybody,” De Rosario said. “We didn’t miss a beat.”
United was dangerous despite the absence of leading scorers Maicon Santos (calf) and Chris Pontius (gluteal muscle). Olsen pushed De Rosario to the front line and started Salihi for the first time in a month. Neal and Andy Najar stepped in for Nick DeLeon (hamstring) and Danny Cruz (rest) on the wings.
United’s three highest-paid players — De Rosario, Salihi and Boskovic — hadn’t started together since the opener.
“We went at them from the first minute,” said Salihi, who has three goals in four matches after none in his first six appearances. “From the first day, we had a clear idea of how we want to work. We’ve worked every day in this way and, everybody is getting better and better.”
After an uneventful 25 minutes, United crackled to life. On the counterattack, Neal threaded a delightful diagonal ball between two retreating defenders to De Rosario, who had made an inconspicuous run behind Jeff Larentowicz. De Rosario’s second touch beat the charging Pickens for his third goal of the campaign.
Pickens kept it close, touching De Rosario’s deflected blast over the crossbar and, on the ensuing corner kick, stopping Robbie Russell’s header. Late in the half, Najar twisted Luis Zapata in knots before unleashing a drive that Pickens punched out.
Pickens was back at it a minute into the second half with a soaring tip on Salihi’s header.
United’s inability to strike again emboldened the Rapids, who briefly turned momentum in their favor. In the 55th minute, Bill Hamid preserved the lead by blocking Jaime Castrillon’s clear bid in the box.
United broke through in the 60th, but not before Pickens interceded again. Neal set up Boskovic for a driven header that the extended keeper pushed aside. Salihi was unmarked to sweep in the rebound.
United managed the final 30 minutes with precision to register its fourth shutout.
“Hopefully we’ve got some guys coming back [from injury] and are ready to do their part,” Olsen said. “That’s what this depth is about: When someone goes down, it’s not panic time. It’s time for the next guy to step up.”
United notes: Center back Dejan Jakovic (ankle) was on the active roster but didn’t play, and Emiliano Dudar (hamstring) remained out. . . . United will host winless Toronto FC on Saturday. . . . In its first U.S. Open Cup match on May 29, United will play the third-division Richmond Kickers on the road or the Aegean Hawks, an area amateur team, at Maryland SoccerPlex. The Kickers and Hawks will meet Tuesday in the second round at the Montgomery County complex.