With D.C. United on course for a loss to the last-place team in the Eastern Conference, forward Eddie Johnson found just the right time to end his scoring drought and allow his side to salvage a point in a 1-1 draw against the Montreal Impact on a crisp Saturday night in front of 14,106 at RFK Stadium.
Johnson’s first tally of the season came in the 84th minute after Fabian Espindola sent a cross his teammate headed into the back of the net. The goal assured United would not lose at home for only the second time this year. D.C. has collected at least one point in seven of eight matches.
United (4-3-3) sits five points behind the New England Revolution for first place in the Eastern Conference. Sporting Kansas City is in second place with 17 points and plays Sunday afternoon.
“I hate to say it, but I feel okay with the tie because I thought [Montreal] was pretty good on the night,” D.C. Coach Ben Olsen said. “I was surprised at their energy level coming off of Wednesday [a 4-2 win against FC Edmonton in the Champions Cup]. Saying that, I didn’t think in the first half we came with the right enthusiasm about the game and the right hunger.”
Jack McInerney gave the Impact (1-5-4) the lead in the 56th minute with his second goal of the season off a pass from Justin Mapp, who recorded his third assist by beating defender Cristian Fernandez to the ball during a run down the right side. The midfielder then delivered the pass accurately as goalkeeper Bill Hamid moved in Mapp’s direction, leaving McInernery with plenty of space to direct his shot.
United was scrambling again in the 64th minute during another Montreal push. This time Sanna Nyassi forced Hamid to move to his left for a save, and McInerney was by himself momentarily after collecting the rebound. But United defender Chris Korb got in the way of McInerney’s shot, and Hamid (five saves) scooped up the ball to prevent additional damage.
“We were all communicating to each other after the [Impact] goal,” Hamid said. “Let’s pick it up, let’s pick it up. We didn’t give up. That shows our heart, but at the same, we as a team, we’re probably going to look at this and say that we have to do better as a unit on the field.”
Olsen spoke earlier this week about the importance of applying pressure early and not allowing Montreal to gain confidence. United didn’t adhere to that blueprint during much of the first half but did manage several chances, beginning with Korb’s right-footed bid on the right side of the field that goalkeeper Troy Perkins (three saves) tracked down above his head.
D.C. had the Impact retreating again moments later when Espindola delivered a short pass Johnson got with his head, but the shot was slightly off the mark. Johnson shortly thereafter had two other chances within 30 seconds of one another, including a header that fluttered over Perkins but clanked off the crossbar.
Johnson was playing his first match since learning the disheartening news he would not be part of the U.S. men’s national team, which began a two-week training camp Tuesday in Palo Alto, Calif., for the World Cup. The three-time MLS all-star had contributed significantly during qualifying, including providing the go-ahead goal during a 2-0 win against Mexico that secured a seventh straight trip to the World Cup for the Americans.
But a flat start to the MLS season in part compelled U.S. Coach Juergen Klinsmann to leave United’s highest-profile winter acquisition off the preliminary 30-man roster. The forward declined to speak with the media following Saturday’s game and has not addressed the decision publicly.
“Obviously him being the big name he is, he’s going to get more attention,” United captain Bobby Boswell said of the team’s highest-paid player. “He wants to score. He obviously wants to get his goals, but at the same time he wants to win. He’s the first guy celebrating and congratulating guys when they score. He’s a good teammate in that regard.”