Three goals before halftime — two by Paul Arriola and one by Steven Birnbaum — all but put the outcome to rest as United (11-11-4) won at home for the seventh time in its past eight tries.
“Once again, we show how strong this team is at home,” Losada said. “. . . We had a lot of emotion, a lot of scoring opportunities. I think we entertain the people once again, and at the same time, we are doing what we need to do — that’s winning our home games.”
In his first appearance in two months, substitute Nigel Robertha stretched the lead in the second half, but United got sloppy and conceded goals by Brandon Vázquez and former D.C. star Luciano Acosta in the last 10 minutes. Bill Hamid’s third extraordinary save of the night prevented the visitors from pulling within a goal in the dying moments.
“It wasn’t a great way to end the game,” Birnbaum said. “We’re pretty disappointed in our performance [late]. The end doesn’t leave a good taste in your mouth.”
The lead was relatively safe, though, because United continued to exhibit a fluid, proactive attack. It has 10 goals in its past three home outings and 25 in 12 games at Audi Field. With 45 goals overall, D.C. is second in the 27-team league behind New England (53).
Julian Gressel was credited with three assists, raising his season total to 11 and placing him in a tie for second in MLS.
Although D.C. is sixth in the standings, it’s one point out of fourth and two from third. Seven teams from each conference will advance to the postseason. Saturday’s match before a crowd of 16,069 marked the start of a five-game stretch featuring four home matches.
The match was Acosta’s first appearance at Audi Field since he left United after the 2019 season to join Mexican club Atlas. Before this season, he signed with Cincinnati (4-13-8), which is in a 1-8-7 rut.
United seized control right away.
On a designed set piece in the seventh minute, Gressel played it short to Edison Flores, who returned the ball to the unmarked Gressel. With teammates crashing the net, Gressel crossed through the six-yard box, past Ola Kamara making a near-post run and into Arriola’s path on the back side for a finishing touch.
In the 21st minute, Gressel provided service from distance — a 40-yard free kick that Cincinnati defended poorly. Birnbaum timed his run to slip behind the line. Birnbaum beat goalkeeper Przemyslaw Tyton to the high ball, sending in a running header from seven yards for his first goal of the year.
“It was a point of emphasis for us, knowing they are a team that probably doesn’t have the biggest fight in them if we go up 1-0 or 2-0 quickly,” Gressel said.
United had some leaks. Donovan Pines’s terrific slide tackle prevented a possible goal, and in the 36th minute, Hamid made a spectacular kick save on Allan Cruz’s bid before Acosta’s follow-up struck the left post.
Arriola extended the lead in the 41st minute. Gressel’s cross deflected to Arriola alone on the backside for a 12-yard one-timer into the low near corner and his fifth goal of the season. It was his first two-goal game since Audi Field’s 2018 grand opening.
For the second consecutive home match, D.C. carried a 3-0 lead into intermission. United has scored 12 goals in the last 15 minutes of the first half this season, its most productive block.
The big lead allowed Losada to make three substitutions at halftime, resting Arriola, Andy Najar and Russell Canouse ahead of two matches in the week ahead: Wednesday at home against Minnesota and Saturday at Orlando.
Reyna replaced Arriola, and United didn’t miss a beat, pumping dangerous crosses into the penalty area and missing the target several times by a fraction. Hamid’s second gem came in the 63rd minute, a soaring touch save on Brenner’s bid.
Robertha replaced Kamara, who entered the weekend as MLS’s leading scorer with 16 goals. The offside flag went up — but no whistle sounded — on the Dutch striker’s goal in the 72nd minute. It was initially nullified, but after video replay, his third of the year was awarded.
Vázquez shattered Hamid’s shutout hopes, then Acosta scored on a deflected shot in the 84th. But United’s early onslaught was enough.
“This is beautiful, especially for a coach like me who likes so much to play offensive football,” Losada said. “Scoring so many goals makes me very happy.”
Note: Flores and Yordy Reyna were named to the Peruvian national team for World Cup qualifiers Oct. 7-14 against Chile, Bolivia and Argentina. Najar (Honduras) and Júnior Moreno (Venezuela) are also expecting call-ups after the match at Orlando.
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