Until the renovated lineup is fully synchronized, Eddie Johnson starts scoring goals and Ben Olsen is satisfied with its overall form, D.C. United is going to have to find industrious ways to compile points. It’s not going to be fancy, but at these early stages of development, Olsen is not worried about the aesthetics.
“It was a good old-fashioned grind-out, with a little luck on the side,” he said after a 1-0 victory over the New York Red Bulls before 12,364 at RFK Stadium on Saturday night.
United (2-2-1) extended its unbeaten streak to three — a notable accomplishment for a club that earned three victories all last season — and won consecutive league games for the first time since October 2012.
Davy Arnaud scored in the fourth minute, Andrew Dykstra recorded his second straight shutout in place of injured Bill Hamid and United withstood a second-half assault to claim the advantage after the first of three legs in the clubs’ annual Atlantic Cup sideshow.
“Things are starting to fall our way,” midfielder Nick DeLeon said. “You can feel the energy.”
And that is all that really mattered to United, which played quality soccer in the first half but was fortunate to retain the lead over the last 45 anxious minutes. The Red Bulls (0-2-4) enjoyed more than 62 percent of possession and generated 14 chances in the second half.
“I didn’t think we did enough with the ball, playing out of trouble and having stretches of possessions,” Olsen said. “And then it was a vicious cycle: We were giving the ball away because there weren’t options and we were tired from defending so long.”
At the start, though, United’s good vibes from the previous two matches carried over.
Bobby Boswell won the aerial battle on Fabian Espindola’s corner kick, flicking the ball to the back side. From an acute angle inside the six-yard box, Arnaud directed a lunging header across the mouth of the goal and into the far corner for his first strike since his winter arrival and 49th of his 13-year career.
Arnaud has been instrumental in United’s revival, filling a void left in central midfield by Luis Silva (ankle injury two weeks ago).
Arnaud said assistant coach Chad Ashton had told him “about that run at the back post that a lot of times people don’t get there and the ball goes right there. So he told me to go there, and there it is.”
The Red Bulls aimed to release French star Thierry Henry into space, but United was tight in the back and prevented any harm before intermission.
Espindola delivered another quality ball off a set piece in the 51st minute, a long free kick that Boswell met for an on-rushing header, saved by rising goalkeeper Luis Robles. United’s chances, though, began to evaporate.
Henry wasted a clear eight-yard header and Eric Alexander missed the top left corner by a whisker. The match continued to flow the visitors’ way.
Dykstra made a sterling reflex save to prevent an own goal on a deflection deep in the box. Henry and Dax McCarty worked a combination, but Cristian Fernandez interrupted the latter’s cross deep in the box. Peguy Luyindula’s rasping drive stung the near post from 12 yards and Lloyd Sam missed a one-timer from 10.
Amid the duress, Johnson’s scoreless campaign continued with a wayward bid on a clean run and an opportunity disrupted at the last instant by sliding defender Kosuke Kimura.
Olsen, though, praised his U.S. national team forward for making good runs, holding the ball and contributing to the collective effort. His greater concern was the amount of chances yielded in the second half.
“We probably sat back too much throughout the game and weren’t aggressive enough with our ideas and with our defense,” he said. “If you sit back, they will pick you apart.”
United notes: Hamid will need a few more days to recover from his foot injury, Olsen said. . . . After three consecutive home matches, United will visit Columbus next Saturday.