D.C. United needed a moment of magic to break down a spirited Sporting Kansas City side on Sunday night at Audi Field in Washington, D.C. It was winger Paul Arriola who provided that moment, scoring a fantastic goal in the 78th minute to give the Black-and-Red a 1-0 win. The win was United's second in a row, helping them keep pace with Philadelphia Union atop the Eastern Conference, with both teams on 23 points from 12 games.
With the recent injury to Donovan Pines, United head coach Ben Olsen opted to change his lineup back to a 4-2-3-1, which had been a staple of his since last summer. That meant the debut of Marquinhos Pedroso, who joined the team last week from FC Dallas, at left back. Opposite United was a Sporting squad that was decimated by injuries, leaving the Western Conference side with just 15 players on the match-day squad.
The game between two of the MLS originals started with chances at both ends. Krisztian Nemeth tested Bill Hamid in the second minute, but sent a shot from outside the box right at the keeper. United then just missed on connecting on a couple of crosses, before Wayne Rooney forced Tim Melia into a diving save on a free kick in the 14th minute.
Back at the other end, Felipe Gutierrez forced a turnover out of Rooney, helping to create a chance for the visitors. Gutierrez played the ball out wide for Daniel Salloi, who tried to beat Hamid with an angled shot but couldn't find the target, with teammates asking for a pass into the middle of the box.
Arriola tried a long range shot in the 30th minute, but his shot took a deflection off a defender, sending the shot out for a corner. From the second corner, Rooney found Steven Birnbaum, but the header from the center back was saved by Melia. A rebound popped out in front of goal, but Frederic Brillant couldn't force the ball over the line.
In first half stoppage time, Sporting won a free kick in a dangerous position, just outside United's box. Johnny Russell, who has four goals to his name this year, got his shot on frame, but Hamid had little trouble in corralling it to end the first half.
Early in the second half, however, Hamid had to be at his best, as SKC got the ball to the end line, allowing Nicolas Hasler to center the ball. Nemeth was unmarked in front of goal and fired in an one-timed shot, but somehow Hamid got enough of the ball to push it over the goal, keeping the game scoreless.
Melia came up big for Sporting, in their first ever visit to Audi Field, in denying Birnbaum from corners. In the 54th and 62nd minutes, Rooney was able to pick out the veteran center back, but both times, Melia did just enough to deny Birnbaum his second goal of the season.
Hamid was likewise called upon to make a save on a corner, after Birnbaum blocked a Russell shot in the box to concede the set piece. Russell's delivery found center back Graham Smith in the box, but Hamid was able to react quick enough to parry the ball off the line.
A draw seemed to be in the cards as the half wore on, until Arriola stepped up to steal the show. Collecting a pass from Rooney, Arriola was able to cut in front of the left flank towards the middle of the field. From just outside the box, Arriola fired a shot that was headed towards the far post. Melia got a hand to the shot, but couldn't do enough to keep the ball out of the back of the net.