By CLIFF STARKEY
WASHINGTON—When MLS announced the schedule before the season started, there couldn’t have been many people circling a seemingly innocuous late July match between D.C. United and Chivas USA as a must-see game.
But due to blistering recent form by both teams, Sunday night’s game at RFK Stadium could be seen by many MLS fans as a marquee match.
A man-of-the-match performance by Eddie Johnson helped D.C. United to a 3-1 victory over Chivas USA. Johnson converted a penalty in the first half and set up a Perry Kitchen goal in the second. The win helps D.C. United stay within touching distance of Sporting Kansas City for top spot in the East.
After the game, D.C. United coach Ben Olsen was quick to praise his team.
“I thought we exploited Chivas in a lot of different areas,” Olsen said. “(Luis) Silva was good, (Chris) Rolfe was trouble for them, and (Chris) Korb gave them trouble.”
But Olsen saved his top praise for Johnson.
“(Johnson) was fantastic today,” Olsen said. “He’s as good as it gets—as well rounded a forward as you see in this league. It’s nice to see him touch the net a little bit, and hopefully this just keeps on getting better.”
Johnson hopes so, as well. He credits, among other things, the end of the World Cup as his inspiration for his recent form.
“It’s been frustrating,” Johnson said. “We all have individual goals, and clearly one of mine was to go to the World Cup. Then you go five games without scoring, and you put a lot more pressure on yourself. Once that World Cup thing was behind me, I could clearly focus on being here, and my teammates, and really try to create something special.”
While Chivas USA had their chances down the right side early on, neither team caused much danger for their opponents until Chris Rolfe was brought down in the corner of the box in the 24th minute. Rolfe had cut in from the left side, and was looking for any kind of an opening when Oswaldo Minda’s clumsy challenge brought him down. The home fans immediately voiced their opinion, and Referee Fotis Bazakos agreed, made no hesitation, and pointed to the spot.
Johnson scored from the spot easily, beating Dan Kennedy to his right. The goal was Johnson’s second successful penalty in two straight games.
After that, halftime couldn’t come soon enough for Kennedy and Chivas USA, who could have been down 3-0, had it not been for two D.C. United shots off the crossbar.
Chivas USA wouldn’t be as lucky in the second half.
In the 59th minute, Eddie Johnson directed a free kick down into the path of Perry Kitchen, whose slot from just inside the box was Kitchen’s second of the season, and D.C. United’s second of the game.
Ten minutes later, Chris Korb released Luis Silva down the left side of the box and into a one-on-one with Kennedy. Silva curled the ball easily into the net for the 3-0 lead.
A late penalty conversion by Erick Torres, scoring a goal in his fifth consecutive game, was little reassurance to Chivas USA, who spent most of the game looking like the team that had been on the bottom of the Western Conference until a recent resurgence.
Chivas USA Head Coach Wilmer Cabrera also noted the difference in play by his team.
“We didn’t look sharp,” Cabrera said after the game. “We could be a little bit tired. We’re carrying a heavy load, due to a lot of games. It could be that that affected us.”
Chivas USA Captain Carlos Bocanegra was disappointed in the result, but knows that his team has the capacity to play well.
“It was a tough game for us,” Bocanegra said after the match. “I don’t think we played well, in general. But we’ll be fine. We won four in a row—unbeaten in five. It had to end at some point. We’ll leave this one behind us, and look forward.”
Coming into the game, Chivas USA had been riding a four-game winning streak, which tied the club record.
Cabrera hopes that some rest will get his team back on track.
“We have to rest,” Cabrera said. “When you’re rested, you’re able to think well and perform well. We know we have to deal with it—no excuses—but let’s try to rest, and give a little fresh momentum to the team.”
D.C. United now has a three-game winning streak, and has taken all points in four of their last five games. They play Fulham FC on Saturday, and Olsen hopes that the game does not prove a distraction from the league.
“We still have a bunch of games coming up. This is a game to get guys up to speed. Our minds are more on Toronto the following Wednesday.”
Here are the match highlights: