D.C. United had to battle through a tough second half, short rest, altitude, a rotated roster, and a new look formation, but did just enough on Saturday night to defeat the Colorado Rapids 3-2 at Dicks Sporting Goods Park in Commerce City, Colorado. After falling behind to a Benny Feilhaber goal, the Black-and-Red reeled off three goals in an eight-minute stretch of the first half. Goals from Luciano Acosta, Chris Durkin, and Lucas Rodriguez were enough for the visitors, despite Kei Kamara's second-half tally and a flurry of chances for the hosts.
Ben Olsen made five changes to the team that drew 0-0 with the Montreal Impact on Tuesday, while switching to a three-man back line. Donovan Pines made his United debut, while Durkin and Jalen Robinson were given their first starts of the season. Wayne Rooney was healthy enough to start, and Rodriguez was back in the starting lineup after being a substitute against the Impact.
United found themselves down in the 12th minute, when Colorado scored on one of their 15 corner kicks on the night. Jack Price's delivery was headed down by Tommy Smith, to the wide-open Feilhaber. The midfielder poked a shot past Bill Hamid, and a late intervention from Pines couldn't prevent the Rapids from taking the lead.
The visitors didn't look all that convincing in attack for the first 30 minutes or so, as the best chance came from a dropped Paul Arriola cross by Tim Howard, which Steven Birnbaum deflected into the side netting from close range. Rooney had a look from a free kick in the 32nd minute, but his effort was over the frame.
However, in the 35th minute, United got their equalizer, opening the floodgates. A corner from Rooney was headed back into the middle by Birnbaum, helped by Pines. Acosta took two touches to settle the ball, and then blasted a shot past Howard.
The dust had hardly settled when Durkin gave United the lead with his first ever MLS goal. Played into space by Rodriguez against a disorganized back line from the Rapids, Durkin carried the ball into the box and then laced to the far post for the lead in the 38th minute.
Not to be outdone, Rodriguez made it three for the Black-and-Red when he took advantage off a turnover from the Rapids in midfield. Rodriguez was surrounded by three Colorado defenders, but got into the box, skipped around a challenge, and poked the ball home for his second goal of the season.
That was all the joy United would have on the attacking end though, as they had just one shot in the second half as the desperately hung onto their lead. Nicolas Mezquida was an early second-half sub for the hosts, and quickly became a thorn in United's side.
Mezquida tested Hamid moments after coming on in the 58th minute and then forced Hamid into another save in the 65th. The ball got away from Hamid on that save, and Birnbaum had to get in the way of Feilhaber's rebound attempt to keep United's two-goal advantage.
That advantage was short-lived, though, as the Rapids were back within one shortly after the resulting corner kick. Recycling possession from that corner kick, Feilhaber sent a lofted cross into the box, where an unmarked Kamara had no troubles heading the Rapids within a goal in the 66th minute.
Three minutes later, Mezquida almost had the equalizer, when his header first bounced off the bar, and then was cleared off the line via the shoulder of Birnbaum. It was Mezquida then in the 79th minute at the back post, forcing a save out of Hamid from a tight angle.
The Rapids kept pushing and pushing but were unable to find the equalizer, losing for the fifth time in seven games this year. United, meanwhile, ended their two-game winless streak and moved back atop the Eastern Conference with their fourth win in seven tries in 2019. United are back in action next Sunday, when they host New York City FC.