At the end of a prolific month and beginning of a rigorous stretch, D.C. United looked every bit like a legitimate MLS contender Wednesday night in recording its fourth consecutive victory.
Eddie Johnson scored an early goal, Bill Hamid made several sterling saves, and when big-spending Toronto FC began to fade, a D.C. side full of unwanted parts and excelling youngsters inflicted a punishing second-half performance for a 3-0 triumph before 16,171 at RFK Stadium.
Continuing a renaissance from a three-win campaign in 2013, United (11-5-4) won for the fifth time in six outings and pulled within a point of Sporting Kansas City, the Eastern Conference leader which has played one additional match.
“It was a great month for us,” midfielder Perry Kitchen said of four league victories in July. “We just have to keep this thing rolling because we are in good form.”
Johnson, United’s marquee winter signing, continued to break out of his rut by scoring for the third consecutive match.
Chris Rolfe, picked up from Chicago in April, scored early in the second half and an own goal forced by United midfielder Nick DeLeon sealed the outcome against Toronto (7-7-5), which features U.S. World Cup midfielder Michael Bradley and former Premier League star Jermain Defoe.
The victory came in the first of eight games over 33 days, a period that will go a long way in defining United’s season.
“We are still looking for more from these guys,” Coach Ben Olsen said. “We need to keep pushing forward and keep picking up points when we can because we have a tough stretch here.”
United went ahead in the eighth minute when Kitchen crossed to Johnson for an authoritative seven-yard header into the left side.
It was his first goal in the run of play since May 17 — his previous two were on penalty kicks — and another sign of his growing influence.
Despite holding the lead, United lived dangerously. It conceded too much space in Toronto’s attacking third and turned to Hamid again and again to provide relief.
United also benefited from Dominic Oduro’s poor finishing touch.
“We easily could have been 1-1 [or] 2-1 them, but shutouts aren’t easy to come by in this league and I am happy the group got one,” Olsen said.
A minute into the second half, Luke Moore went one on one with Hamid. Hamid won again.
“Big Bill was big tonight,” defender Bobby Boswell said. “I love getting zeros because he deserves them. He really likes zeros. It’s exciting when he gets them.”
United began to click, sustaining possession and using the entire field. The genesis of the second goal, however, was a throw-in. Sean Franklin’s toss was flicked by Luis Silva to DeLeon, who was in the process of burning Warren Creavalle when the Toronto defender took him down inside the box.
Referee Chris Penso allowed play to continue. On the back side, Rolfe collected the stray ball and beat Joe Bendik with a composed finish in the 59th minute for his fourth goal.
“The ref made a good call in not calling the penalty,” Rolfe said, “although it definitely was a penalty.”
Eight minutes later, DeLeon’s pressure on Justin Morrow forced a turnover. The right wing embarked on an assertive and stylish run, touching the ball past Nick Hagglund and bearing down on Bendik. The goalkeeper made contact, but the retreating Hagglund nodded the ball into the vacant net.
“We are on a good roll right now,” Johnson said, “and we want to separate ourselves as much as we can against the teams in our conference.”
On Sunday evening, United will visit Houston, where it has never won since the ninth-place Dynamo entered MLS in 2006.
●REVOLUTION 3, RAPIDS 0: Lee Nguyen had a goal and an assist as New England snapped an eight-game losing streak by winning in Foxborough, Mass.
New England had only scored four goals during the losing streak; the streak was one loss short of the club record.
In the 10th minute, New England took its first lead in a match since May 24. Nguyen’s shot inside the box deflected off Drew Moor for an own goal.
Thomas Piermayr was handed his second yellow card for Colorado in the 74th minute for a rough challenge just outside the box.
Nguyen’s ensuing free kick cleared the wall and landed in the upper right corner of the net.
Four minutes later, Nguyen sent a through ball to Kelyn Rowe, who took three dribbles and found the back of the net.
●FIRE 0, WHITECAPS 0: Chicago goalkeeper Sean Johnson made a second half save to preserve the tie with Vancouver in Bridgeview, Ill.
Vancouver’s Erik Hurtado had the Whitecaps’ best chance of the game in the 49th minute. He broke free of the defense and cut to the center of the box, but his right-footed effort was knocked aside by Johnson.
It was Johnson’s third shutout of the season and Vancouver goalkeeper David Ousted’s fifth. They each made two saves.
The Fire’s best opportunity came in the ninth minute, but Mike Magee barely missed from just outside the box with a free kick.
Washington boosted its National Women’s Soccer League playoff chances, coming from behind in the second half at Maryland SoccerPlex to defeat second-place Kansas City, 2-1.
Kerstin Garefrekes equalized in the 49th minute and Christine Nairn (Annapolis) scored the go-ahead goal in the 67th as the Spirit (9-8-4) moved into third place with three matches left. Four teams will advance to postseason. Washington will host Chicago on Saturday night.
Kansas City fell to 11-6-4.