Between them, forwards Fabian Espindola and Chris Rolfe have 16 years of MLS experience. Until last month, when D.C. United acquired Rolfe from Chicago, the two had never played together. In the same lineup for seven games, Espindola served up front with Eddie Johnson while Rolfe manned the left flank.
So with Johnson suspended Wednesday night, Coach Ben Olsen made the easy decision and paired the veteran attackers.
The partnership was a rousing success. Rolfe scored first, Espindola struck second and United defeated the Houston Dynamo, 2-0, before an announced crowd of 8,224 at soggy RFK Stadium.
“It’s certainly not a genius move by the coach,” Olsen said. “That is where [Rolfe] has played, and he knows what to do up there.
“He and Fabi worked pretty well together. Rolfe has a great ability to fill in the holes and play with guys with different attributes. He knows what the game needs and where to go.”
With Lewis Neal, Nick DeLeon, Davy Arnaud and Perry Kitchen providing the pulse and Rolfe and Espindola finishing chances, United (5-3-3) surpassed last year’s points total and leaped into second place in the Eastern Conference heading into Saturday’s showdown at front-running New England (6-3-2).
Since starting the campaign with two defeats, United is 5-1-3.
Acquired in the offseason re-entry draft, Espindola leads the club in goals (five) and assists (five). Rolfe has recorded three goals and three assists in eight appearances.
“He is good with the ball, moving, finding spaces,” Espindola said of Wednesday’s partner.
Both sides were missing starters: MLS suspended Johnson for a “reckless challenge” against Montreal last weekend, while Houston midfielders Brad Davis (United States) and Oscar Boniek Garcia (Honduras) are attending World Cup training camps.
Nine minutes into the match, the Dynamo (5-6-2) lost forward Mark Sherrod to what appeared to be a serious knee injury. Battling Bobby Boswell to the end line, Sherrod grabbed his left knee, his screams audible from the mezzanine level. He was taken by stretcher to the locker room.
United went ahead in the 28th minute.
Espindola took possession off a throw-in and muscled past defender Jermaine Taylor. He squared the ball to Rolfe, who ran at David Horst, veered right and then cut back so quickly that the center back tumbled like a top losing velocity.
Rolfe does not waste such opportunities. He picked out a spot — lower right corner from 16 yards — and beat goalkeeper Tally Hall.
“First, I was trying to hold the ball, and then when I saw him, I played it to him,” Espindola said. “He was going one [versus] one. He has good feet. We know” what was going to happen.
United created dangerous situations, if not genuine opportunities, with an abundance of possession, crosses and corner kicks. Bill Hamid’s quality stop on Giles Barnes’s 22-yard drive in the 44th minute maintained the lead at intermission.
Rolfe almost doubled the lead in the 61st minute with a sensational half-volley from 25 yards off the crossbar.
Two minutes later, Espindola struck.
He collected Rolfe’s pass in open field on the left side and bore down on Horst, who remained between the tormentor and his keeper but didn’t risk challenging for the ball.
From an angled 12 yards, Espindola ripped a left-footed shot, low and toward the far corner. Hall was late to react, perhaps screened by Horst, and allowed the ball to skid past him.
Hamid preserved the shutout with a touch save on Servando Carrasco’s rasping long-range effort in the 71st.
Houston’s Brian Ownby was red-carded in stoppage time.
“Two great goals,” DeLeon said. “Those guys have been doing it all year for us. We hope they keep it up.”
SPIRIT 3, SKY BLUE 3: Diana Matheson converted a penalty kick in stoppage time as Washington (3-4-1) recovered from a two-goal deficit in the last 16 minutes of a National Women’s Soccer League match before 2,545 at Maryland SoccerPlex.
Jonelle Foligno and Katy Freels scored six minutes apart early in the second half and Kelley O’Hara added a goal in the 65th as New Jersey-based Sky Blue (1-3-4) surged to a 3-1 lead. But Lori Lindsey struck from 22 yards in the 74th, and the Spirit benefited from a late call in the box.