“It’s been brutal,” Coach Ben Olsen said after United (2-11-3) won a regular season match for the first time since March 9.
“It’s been brutal for the staff and the players. It’s been brutal for the organization. It’s been brutal for our fans. But what I am most proud of is we kept things moving forward. We had some bumps. [But no one around the team had] given up hope.”
Chris Pontius scored his first goal of the year on an 11th-minute penalty kick and, breaking from season-long trends, United played a composed, simple and effective game to win in Washington for the first time since the home opener against Real Salt Lake.
The first halftime lead of the regular season held up as Bill Hamid made a key late save in recording his fourth shutout.
“Awful, terrible” is how Pontius described the past 21 / 2 months.
“It tests you off the field as well, mentally,” he said. “As tough as it is, the guys have come put the work in. Hopefully, this is one of many games we can put a streak together.”
United has actually performed decently in recent weeks. It earned a draw at New England and defeated Philadelphia in the U.S. Open Cup. On Saturday, D.C. was in control for much of the evening against the Earthquakes (4-7-6), who were missing 2012 MLS MVP Chris Wondolowski (foot injury).
United will seek to carry the momentum into Wednesday’s Open Cup quarterfinal against New England at Maryland SoccerPlex. With little hope of making the MLS playoffs, the 100th annual tournament is the club’s best bet for success.
“We have got the feeling we are starting to turn in the right direction,” midfielder John Thorrington said.
United went ahead on Pontius’s penalty kick, awarded when Justin Morrow tripped overlapping right back Chris Korb at the end of a fine build-up and service from Thorrington.
Pontius, a Best XI all-league selection last year with a team-best 12 goals, entered the evening scoreless in 920 minutes. Injuries had added to his frustration, most recently a concussion.
Center back Ethan White departed late in the half with a possibile concussion and was replaced by Conor Shanosky, a Potomac Falls High graduate who, in his second career regular season appearance, was solid in the middle.
With Thorrington in the hub, United moved the ball well and dictated terms for considerable stretches of the second half.
San Jose did not threaten until the last 30 minutes: Shea Salinas’s 10-yard smash forced Hamid to make a reflex save and Adam Jahn swiveled in the box and sent a 16-yarder off the far post.
In the 86th, amid an urgent and hectic push, Salinas supplied Alan Gordon for a clear seven-yard volley that narrowly missed the top of the target. And in the dying seconds, Morrow’s threatening one-timer from the center of the box soared over the crossbar.
“Sometimes it just takes one win and you can go on a little roll,” midfielder Nick DeLeon said. “It’s a huge weight off [the team’s] shoulders. We can start to relax and play some soccer.”
United notes: Captain Dwayne De Rosario did not play in order to rest a hip injury and prepare for the Open Cup. . . . United will release Brazilian forward Rafael, who made two brief appearances in the previous six league matches and was not in uniform against San Jose. His departure opens an international roster slot and clears salary cap space ahead of the summer transfer period.
Andrew Jacobson and Walker Zimmerman scored in the final two minutes to lift FC Dallas into 2-2 tie with Sporting Kansas City in Frisco, Tex.
Jacobson scored in the 88th minute and Zimmerman followed with his first career MLS goal in the 90th to cap the stunning comeback for Dallas (8-3-5), which remains unbeaten at home this season at 7-0-2.
Dallas remains atop the Western Conference standings despite winning just once in its last five matches (1-2-2).
After Kei Kamara’s penalty kick goal in the 43rd minute and an own goal in the 58th, Kansas City (6-5-5) seemed to be in good shape, even after going down to 10 men following C.J. Sapong’s ejection in the 68th minute.
Kansas City goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen made four saves and appeared ready to earn his eighth shutout of the year.
Dallas nearly won it in stoppage time. But Kenny Cooper’s 20-yard blast curled just wide of the right post.
●FIRE 2, CREW 1: Mike Magee had the winning goal and Joel Lindpere had two assists to help visiting Chicago rally in the second half against Columbus.
Lindpere found former Crew midfielder Dilly Duka at the far post for a right-footed stab that tied the game 1-1 in the 52nd minute.
Two minutes later, Lindpere assisted on Magee’s 10th goal. He sent a cross into the box that Magee chested into the goal.
●TORONTO FC 0, DYNAMO 0: Joe Bendik stopped four shots for Toronto FC and Tally Hall made three saves for host Houston. Houston (6-5-5) is winless in six games; meantime, Toronto FC (2-7-6) extended its unbeaten streak to three games.
Houston’s Will Bruin had a couple chances in first half, with a header in the 23rd minute from the middle of the box cleared out of bounds and a header in the 26th from the center box that sailed high.
Bruin had a third header in the 43rd minute from the left box saved by Bendik.
Toronto had a chance in the 16th minute off a corner kick, but Hall stopped Doneil Henry’s header from inside the box.
●REAL SALT LAKE 2, SEATTLE 0: Kyle Beckerman scored a goal right before halftime and Robbie Findley added another immediately after it to lift host Real Salt Lake over the Sounders.