Early in Sunday’s match against the Red Bulls, D.C. United midfielder Luis Silva broke free and chased a ball toward the top of the box. New York keeper Luis Robles met him there, hopeful he could secure the ball before Silva got a foot to it. As the two met, Silva went airborne as if Robles had kicked him — though it was tough to believe any kick subject to the laws of physics could have sent him sprawling with so much vigor.
Replays revealed he had left his feet of his own volition, seeking a penalty kick that did not come. Had he stayed on his feet, he might have had another opportunity; the ball was still available through his flight.
About a half’s worth of play later, Silva faced a similar opportunity in the 57th minute: a feed sailing toward the top of the box, with Robles charging out after it. This time, Silva stayed earthbound. He chased down the ball when Robles could not secure it. He took an easy touch and slid the ball into the goal for United’s first score. Eddie Johnson added another late to spark D.C. to a 2-0 conference win on a sweltering Sunday afternoon at RFK Stadium.
“I’m very pleased with the result,” United Coach Ben Olsen said. “It was always going to be a gutsy day. It was just so hot out there.”
Silva’s goal came off the head of Fabian Espindola, United’s leading scorer, with whom Silva has paired for smooth and lucrative connections up front. The ball Espindola headed came from United keeper Bill Hamid, who threaded a goal kick to Espindola at midfield and was credited with his first career assist, news he was surprised by after the game.
“I saw they had a lot of numbers forward, so I hit the goal kick early,” Hamid said. “[Espindola] had already signaled for it. He won the header, Silva went in behind him and it was a great finish.”
The Red Bulls’ Bradley Wright-Phillips, MLS’s leading scorer, earned a point-blank header just in front of Hamid. United’s keeper stifled the shot but was visibly frustrated it had been allowed in the first place. More good New York chances followed in the first half, but United settled down in the second.
Hamid’s efforts backed an energetic offensive effort, full of chances crafted by United’s full-strength starting 11. Sunday was United’s fifth match in 15 days, and it had rested midfielders Nick DeLeon, Davy Arnaud and Chris Rolfe in a 4-1 loss to the Los Angeles Galaxy earlier this week.
That game required a bounce-back win for the Eastern Conference leaders, particularly given the grueling four-game swing to follow, which includes trips to Vancouver, New York, Jamaica and Chicago.
The pairing of Silva and Espindola earned exciting chances in the box early on as they had throughout the grueling fortnight — success that pushed Johnson out of the starting lineup.
“I thought those two continued to show very good chemistry,” Olsen said. “When Eddie came on, he’s a guy if you’re going to play a high line, he can punish you.”
Johnson entered the game for Silva in the 66th minute, and electric opportunities soon followed.
“I wanted to try to pick up where whoever I was coming in the game for left off,” Johnson said. “Silva did a fantastic job today, had a fantastic goal, and you want to keep that energy going. That’s what Coach asked of me.”
In stoppage time, Johnson worked his way into another breakaway chance. This time, he fired, and the shot was too much for Robles. The keeper’s hand could not slow the shot, which bounced slowly into the back corner to remove any doubt the best team in the Eastern Conference would add another win to its rejuvenated 2014.
● GALAXY 3, CHIVAS USA 0: In Carson, Calif., Gyasi Zardes scored twice to lead Los Angeles.
The Galaxy is 13-5-7, two points off the lead in the Western Conference behind Seattle.