United vs. Impact: D.C. retakes MLS Eastern Conference lead with sixth straight home win


D.C.’s Chris Pontius, right, gets a high-five from teammate Dwayne DeRosario after Pontius’s sensational goal on the brink of halftime. With the win, United improved to 10-5-3. (Ned Dishman/Getty Images)

In the team tunnel linking the back hallway to the field, a sign reminds D.C. United’s players of the importance of securing points at home: “Take Back RFK.”

The previous two years, United did more giving than taking in Washington, winning just seven of 32 matches at creaky RFK Stadium. But home performances have underscored United’s 2012 renaissance, and with a 3-0 victory over the Montreal Impact on Saturday night in front of the largest audience of the season, Ben Olsen’s crew extended its D.C. winning streak to six and unbeaten run to nine.

“It was a pretty complete performance,” Olsen said. “You have to take advantage of teams down on their luck, and we stepped on them.”

Chris Pontius scored a sensational goal on the brink of halftime and defender Robbie Russell posted his first of the season five minutes into the second half as United (10-5-3) regained sole possession of first place in MLS’s Eastern Conference.

Reserve Hamdi Salihi added a goal in second-half stoppage time in front of 18,302.

Coupled with New York’s 1-1 draw at Toronto, United moved two points ahead of the Red Bulls, who have played one fewer game.

D.C. hasn’t lost at home since the season opener, and Saturday’s result equaled the club record for consecutive home victories in regulation.

In evening air as thick as Greek yogurt, United labored at the start before building steam midway through the first half and punishing the expansion Impact (5-10-3).

Bill Hamid was well protected by center backs Dejan Jakovic and Brandon McDonald to record the team’s sixth shutout.

Following a 3-2 loss at New York last weekend, Olsen altered the lineup to get Branko Boskovic onto the field as the playmaker. That decision led to a series of moves that dropped Pontius to the left flank after several quality matches on the front line. He didn’t seem the least bit bothered, cracking open the match against weary visitors who would’ve played for a draw in the second half.

“I worried a little about putting him back on the flank,” Olsen said. “I was taking him out of a position he was successful in.”

The Impact was better in attack in the early going. Sanna Nyassi’s rapid counter and 23-yard effort required a diving save by Hamid. United began to find a rhythm and missed several quality chances before Pontius struck at the end of a breathtaking run.

He settled a bouncing ball 40 yards out, absorbed Sinisa Ubiparipovic’s challenge, twisted Calum Mallace in knots at the top of the box with a right-to-left cutback, then veered from Shavar Thomas to sting an angled 12-yarder into the far corner for his ninth goal of the year.

“Your brain is moving about a million miles per hour when you are going at speed and you just have to make a split-second decision,” Pontius said of his options as he approached shooting range.

De Rosario was credited with his 10th assist, the most in MLS.

United struck again five minutes after the break. Boskovic served a penetrating free kick from 30-plus yards into the heart of the penalty area. Russell directed a 12-yard header into the right corner for his first goal of the year and second in five MLS seasons.

“It’s like a peach. It’s sitting up there, I just wanted to grab that,” Russell said. “It would’ve been a crime if I hadn’t scored it.”

Salihi converted a rebound in the waning moments for his fifth of the year.

“You always say if you win at home and tie on the road, you are a playoff team,” Pontius said. “So we’re winning at home and we’re doing all right on the road as well.”

United notes: The club’s next match is July 15 at Houston. . . .

Midfielder Andy Najar played 90 minutes in his final appearance before reporting to Honduran Olympic training camp. . . .

Chinese forward Long Tan, acquired from Vancouver on Thursday, is available for Sunday’s scrimmage between the reserves and the club’s under-23 squad at the training grounds. Kickoff is at 9:30 a.m. Admission is free.

SOUNDERS 2, REVOLUTION 2: Diego Fagundez headed home a cross from Fernando Cardenas in the fourth and final minute of stoppage time for host New England.

It was the first goal this season for Fagundez, 17. Eddie Johnson headed home a pair of goals within a 13-minute span during the first half for Seattle.

RED BULLS 1, TORONTO FC 1: Danny Koevermans scored for host Toronto FC as both goals came in the first six minutes of a wide-open game.

RAPIDS 3, TIMBERS 0: Jaime Castrillon and Conor Casey scored four minutes apart in the first half for Colorado against visiting Portland.

DYNAMO 2, UNION 1: In Houston, Brian Ching scored on a penalty kick in the 83rd minute for a win over Philadelphia.

CREW 2, REAL SALT LAKE 0: Tony Tchani scored for the second straight game as Columbus won at home.

The match was delayed an hour because electricity was out at Crew Stadium until the afternoon following Friday’s storms.

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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