Six weeks had passed without victory — in either international competition or the regular season. So with dusk settling on a winterish Saturday at RFK Stadium and goals flowing at an absurd rate — by its standards, anyway — D.C. United was well within its right to rejoice.
For the first time in 2016 and the first time since the first round of the MLS playoffs last fall, United won a soccer match. And the club did it in resounding fashion, too: a 4-0 rout of the Vancouver Whitecaps before an announced crowd of 14,088.
“We’ve been building up to this moment,” forward Chris Rolfe said. “We knew it was going to happen eventually. We believe in it.”
United (1-2-3) ended a nine-game rut encompassing the 2015 Eastern Conference semifinals, CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals early this year and the current regular season. After scoring three times in its first five league matches, D.C. poured in four goals Saturday over a 52-minute span.
United played a simple, intelligent and ultimately effective game. Unlike in several matches this year, there was never a sense of peril. Defensive mistakes were scarce, the midfielders and forwards were synchronized, and Travis Worra, the third-choice goalkeeper making his fifth consecutive start, celebrated his 23rd birthday with his second shutout.
“We were second best all over the field,” Whitecaps Coach Carl Robinson said. “They got what they deserved, and we got what we deserved.”
Fabian Espindola scored the first two goals, both off rebounds from close range. Substitute Alvaro Saborio scored the last two, both in the closing moments off sensational passes from another late entry, Luciano Acosta.
“To a man, it was a good night,” Coach Ben Olsen said. “Everybody showed up and did what they needed to do — no poor performances, selfless across the field, connecting passing and playing what the game told them to play.”
Despite the winless spell, Olsen had liked the way his team was coming together. It came as no surprise, then, that the only lineup change was defensive midfielder Marcelo Sarvas returning from a red-card suspension.
“I am glad we hung in there with that group of guys and continued to grow and not panic,” Olsen said. “We’re better off for it.”
The Whitecaps (2-3-1) were at a deficit before kickoff: Their most influential player, central midfielder Pedro Morales, skipped the trip with an injury, and defensive midfielder Matias Laba sat out with a suspension.
United had the best of a methodical first half, generating several quality opportunities. Goalkeeper David Ousted made superb saves on Espindola and Nick DeLeon, and a Steve Birnbaum header was a whisker wide.
United took a deserved lead in the 39th minute. Patrick Nyarko’s entry pass liberated Rolfe on the left side of the penalty area. Ousted made a diving save but failed to smother the ball, allowing Espindola to sweep it into the net.
Vancouver’s first-half chances were fleeting. A few minutes before the goal, Blas Perez narrowly missed the top corner from 22 yards. A few minutes later, Worra made a fine save on Fraser Aird’s angled bid.
United did not let intermission quell its hunger. Less than two minutes into the second half, DeLeon supplied Espindola for an angled effort that Ousted kicked away.
In the 54th minute, with everything flowing United’s way, Birnbaum headed Taylor Kemp’s corner kick off the crossbar. Before the ball could hit ground, Espindola snapped it in from four yards for his third goal of the season.
Vancouver exhausted its three substitutes by the 67th minute. The last, Erik Hurtado, hit the left post within a minute of entering.
United kept its composure, conceding few genuine chances. The outcome was not in doubt, but just to be sure, United added two more goals. Acosta revved his engines on the counterattack and hooked a cross to Saborio behind the defense for a clean finish.
In stoppage time, the duo connected again as Acosta threaded a perfectly weighted through ball to the Costa Rican striker for a chip over Ousted.
“We knew it was coming,” midfielder Lamar Neagle said of the long-sought three points. “But you can only say that for so long: It’s coming, it’s coming, it’s coming, it’s coming. Now we finally got the win we wanted.”
Note: United managing general partner Jason Levien has teamed with Memphis Grizzlies minority owner Steve Kaplan in an effort to purchase a controlling interest in the Premier League’s Swansea City. Levien, who has a small financial stake in United, has former ties to the NBA’s Grizzlies and Philadelphia 76ers.