Giovinco’s goals end United’s run
Much of D.C. United’s preparation for Saturday night’s game against Toronto FC surrounded around stopping Sebastian Giovinco. He made that plan look laughable with the scored tied in the 83rd minute at RFK Stadium. In stealth fashion, he unleashed a deep drive from above the box to beat fully extended goalkeeper Andrew Dykstra, then extended his tattooed arms fully to the crowd, looking as if he were about to bow after his stunning goal.
He never went that far Saturday night, but Giovinco put on a show in Toronto FC’s 2-1 win. United’s plan was to keep the striker off the scoresheet.
“We thought we had a chance but obviously that game plan didn’t go well,” defender Steve Birnbaum said after the game, his voice weighing heavily with disappointment as D.C. United watched its 20-game home unbeaten streak snapped.
“It was just one of those games,” United Coach Ben Olsen said.
The night had started with such promise for Birnbaum and United (8-4-4). Although United was playing for the fifth time in 15 days, it looked fresh and aggressive early. Much of that was due to the ever-energetic Fabian Espindola, the Argentine forward who, three nights after sparking United’s win over Chicago, again provided a charge.
His corner kick in the sixth minute set up the first goal of Birnbaum’s Major League Soccer career and mark the first time in seven games that United didn’t allow its opponent to score first.
Espindola, playing in just his second match since returning from a six-game suspension, played 90 minutes and gave United quality looks off a number of set pieces on a night when the team was dealing with a number of absences. That included starting defender Chris Korb and midfielder Chris Pontius, as well as starting goalkeeper Bill Hamid, who missed his second consecutive game with an undisclosed injury.
That gave Dykstra one of his most difficult assignments of the season, even though Toronto FC (6-5-1) was playing without star Michael Bradley due to U.S. national team duty this week. It also didn’t have a fully healthy Jozy Altidore (hamstring), but it mattered little. Giovinco looked determined, especially after Dykstra made an acrobatic save to stop the Italian striker’s quality attempt in the 24th minute.
Exactly 10 minutes later, Giovinco crossed United defender Sean Franklin up with a nifty dribble to his left foot and beat Dykstra to tie the game at 1.
“He’s a world-class player. He’s hard to defend. He’s crafty and he’s good with both feet,” Franklin said. “Today he did his job and got his team two goals and three points.”
Espindola nearly assisted on another goal off a set-piece in the 60th minute, delivering a deep free kick into the box that was scored by Kofi Opare and sent the crowd into a frenzy. But the goal was nullified after Opare was ruled offside, and United had few scoring opportunities down the stretch. Giovinco, an early MLS MVP candidate who entered the night with five goals and six assists, scored his game-winner after a United turnover.
“We were pretty careless with the ball, I thought, today. We should’ve been a little bit better. We didn’t have as much possession as we thought we would,” said Birnbaum.
Olsen said after the game that he was encouraged by the team’s overall performance in the second half, although Franklin added that the team has to do a “good job now resting and getting ready for next week. “Saturday was the completion of a trying stretch for United, which still sits atop the MLS Eastern Conference standings (28 points) and will now have eight days to recharge and prepare for its next game against Orlando City. United’s roster could be closer to fullstrength by then, although Olsen offered little insight after Saturday’s loss.
“I’ll have a lot of tough choices next weekend,” he said.
Toronto forward Sebastian Giovinco (10) scored twice to help end D.C. United’s 20-match unbeaten run at RFK Stadium.