WASHINGTON -- What a difference a year makes.
Just a season after being swept in their three-game series with the Houston Dynamo by a combined score of 8-1, D.C. United made easy work of the Dynamo on Wednesday night, riding goals from Fabian Espindola and Chris Rolfe to a 2-0 victory at RFK Stadium.
The win puts United in second place in the East with 18 points -- two more than they amassed during their entire 2013 campaign. Houston sit just a point behind them in third.
Both teams struggled to find traction -- both literally and figuratively -- in a rain-soaked first 25 minutes where neither side registered a shot on goal. The Dynamo would lose the services of rookie Mark Sherrod in the tenth minute, as the forward would leave the match with an apparent knee injury.
United opened up the game in the 29th minute. Midfielder Lewis Neal threw the ball in to Espindola on the right flank. The Argentine, who did well to shield his defender away and head upfield, played a cross to fellow forward Rolfe at the top of the box. Rolfe made quick work of Houston defender David Horst with a series of cutbacks before slotting home the opener past an outstretched Tally Hall.
Rolfe was filling in for a suspended Eddie Johnson, who missed the match to serve a one-game ban handed down by the MLS Disciplinary Committee for what was deemed a reckless challenge during United’s 1-1 draw against Montreal on Saturday. The former Fire midfielder and forward filled in effortlessly, combining well with Espindola on a number of exchanges.
Houston, on the other hand, were missing far more than one piece of the equation. Midfielders Brad Davis and Boniek García are away on World Cup duty, while Ricardo Clark missed the match due to injury.
The Dynamo and D.C. alike seemed to feed off the opening goal, closing the half out with a series of missed opportunities; in the 43rd minute, Davy Arnaud found Nick DeLeon at the edge of the six with a driven cross, but his header would skim inches wide of the far post. Dynamo midfielder Giles Barnes would get his chance just a a minute later, but his attempt from 20 yards out would go wanting as well as Bill Hamid made a save on the half-volley attempt.
Espindola would use a piece of individual skill to double D.C.’s lead in the 64th minute, running onto a well-played ball from Rolfe before using a stepover to elude Horst. His left-footed strike would skim just to the left of Hall and into the back of the net.
Houston’s night got worse in second half stoppage time when a frustrated Brian Ownby was sent off for violent conduct after striking United defender Cristian Fernandez in the face.
D.C. will play their third game in a week on Saturday evening when they travel to New England, while Houston will travel cross-country to face the Earthquakes the following night.