Giovinco’s goals end United’s run

The Washington Post Sunday - - SPORTS - TORONTO FC 2, D.C. UNITED 1 BY RO­MAN STUBBS ro­man.stubbs@wash­post.com

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.

NICK WASS/AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Toronto for­ward Se­bas­tian Giovinco (10) scored twice to help end D.C. United’s 20-match un­beaten run at RFK Sta­dium.

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