D.C. United’s match against the Vancouver Whitecaps, the MLS points leaders, swung back and forth without clarity Saturday night. United fell behind after 70 seconds but drew even within 10 minutes. The Whitecaps lost a midfielder to a red card before halftime, but United lost its goalkeeper to a leg injury early in the second half and turned to a third-string rookie.
And when the madness at BC Place subsided, United wrapped its arms around a 2-1 victory to extend its unbeaten streak to five and keep pace with the New England Revolution atop the Eastern Conference.
Chris Rolfe broke a 1-1 tie in the 64th minute for United (4-1-2), which welcomed forward Fabian Espindola back from a six-game suspension but watched another goalkeeper get hurt. Starting in place of ailing Bill Hamid, Andrew Dykstra appeared to turn an ankle in the 55th minute. Travis Worra made his MLS debut and survived a torrent of threats in the closing stages, which included six minutes of stoppage time.
United’s formidable challenges against the imposing Whitecaps were compounded by the absence of three starters. With Hamid slowed by a thigh contusion, Dykstra made his second consecutive start. Left back Taylor Kemp was a late scratch with what the team said was an illness. Midfielder Davy Arnaud remained in Washington with an apparent groin injury.
Chris Korb replaced Kemp, while Michael Farfan shifted into the middle and Nick DeLeon returned to the lineup on the right wing. With Espindola inserted into the lineup, Jairo Arrieta took a seat. Rolfe and Chris Pontius switched positions, a move that paired Rolfe with Espindola and moved Pontius to the left wing.
The personnel issues extended to the bench, leaving Coach Ben Olsen with five available substitutes, two short of the norm. Because of visa complications, rookie midfielder Miguel Aguilar skipped the trip to Canada.
The Whitecaps (5-3-1) wasted no time. Goalkeeper David Ousted‘s long ball to midfield connected with Steven Beitashour, who sprung Octavio Rivero on the right flank. Rivero, MLS’s top scorer with five goals entering the weekend, was close to being offside but play continued. Rivero crossed to Pedro Morales, who settled it with his chest and struck the high-bouncing ball from 15 yards into the right side of the net.
In his return from a red card suspension, Morales posted his first goal of the year.
Given the circumstances and opponent, this had the makings of a long night for the visitors.
United, however, answered in the ninth minute off, of all things, a throw-in. Farfan controlled Pontius’s toss and lifted the ball into the heart of the penalty area, where Bobby Boswell beat Samuel Adekugbe and directed a 10-yard header into the left corner of the net.
The sides were on even terms the remainder of the half, but the match continued turning in United’s favor.
In the 39th minute, Espindola latched onto a poor Vancouver touch and set up Farfan for a clever chip that beat Ousted and floated over the crossbar. United gained a man advantage in the 42nd minute when Whitecaps midfielder Matias Laba received a second yellow card for clipping Espindola’s leg from behind.
Down a man, Whitecaps Coach Carl Robinson removed a forward (Darren Mattocks) and inserted a central midfielder (Gershon Koffie).
Ousted thwarted United twice in a one-minute span early in the second half, diving to his right to get a hand on Espindola’s low drive and soaring to his left to stop Rolfe’s wicked effort from 19 yards.
The Whitecaps countered a minute later. Mauro Rosales created space deep in the box and sent his bid off the far post. In the scramble for the rebound, United’s Sean Franklin appeared to roll onto Dykstra’s leg. After treatment and testing, Dykstra could not continue.
Worra, undrafted from the University of New Hampshire and signed by United late in preseason, entered the match. Three days earlier, Worra had registered a shutout for the third-division Richmond Kickers, his primary assignment this season. But with Hamid out, United recalled him for the Vancouver trip.
United helped ease his nerves in the 64th minute with the go-ahead goal. Rolfe made an assertive jaunt through Vancouver’s resistance and attempted to connect with Pontius at the top of the box. Beitashour broke it up, but Rolfe continued his run and drove the unclaimed ball into the left corner from 18 yards for his second goal of the season.
Despite the disadvantage in man power, the Whitecaps applied unrelenting pressure over the last 10 minutes. United struggled to clear the ball from the penalty area and yielded several set pieces. On two occasions, Ousted ran the length of the field to join the masses for corner kicks.
The Columbus Crew, which improved to 3-2-2 with a 4-1 home victory over Philadelphia, will visit RFK Stadium next Saturday night.
DCU linup: Dykstra (Worra 58th); Franklin, Boswell, Opare, Korb; DeLeon, Kitchen, Farfan, Pontius (Doyle 89th); Rolfe (Silva 76th), Espindola.