Though one point gained is better than three lost, D.C. United know they cannot afford to squander points in the race for the Eastern Conference lead as they begin a three-match road swing versus conference rivals Thursday night at FC Cincinnati.
United (8-8-5) enter this week’s play four points behind the Union for the East lead with a match in hand. D.C. has just two losses in its last nine games but also only one win in that stretch after salvaging a 2-2 draw against 10-man New England at home last Friday.
Quincy Amarikwa rescued the point for United by volleying Wayne Rooney’s cross from a free kick in the 86th minute for his first goal with the team, capping a rally started in the 43rd minute when Leonardo Jara also notched his first goal for the Black-and-Red.
“We knew this was a big game, especially when you’re about to go on the road for two games,” defender Steve Birnbaum told United’s official website about dropping points at home. “So yeah it’s a blow, we are not really happy about it. Obviously, one point is better than zero but we expect to get three at home.”
United’s offense will be at full strength for this match as playmaker Luciano Acosta returns after serving a one-match ban for his red card in a 2-0 loss to FC Dallas on July 4. Rooney, Acosta and Paul Arriola – who assisted on Jara’a goal – have accounted for 18 of United’s 27 goals in league play.
FC Cincinnati (5-2-13) is last in the East on 20 points, trailing Columbus on goal difference but seeking its first three-match MLS winning streak in club history after upending Chicago 2-1 on the road Saturday. Keeper Spencer Richey proved inspirational, stoning Nico Gaitan on a pair of penalty kicks in the first half to preserve a 1-0 lead.
Though the Fire equalized when Gaitan pounced on the rebound of his second miss from the spot, the Royals grabbed all three points through Fanendo Adi’s goal on 83 minutes and snapped an eight-match road losing streak.
“Anyone who watches that game knows we are a different team than three weeks ago,” Richey said after becoming just the third keeper in MLS history to stop two penalties in a match. “It’s a huge win against a team we’re directly competing with to try and climb the table.
“Momentum is insane in this league,” Richey added. “It’s a switch, something that clicks in the locker room and you can turn your season around. We’re trying to get on that roll and we’ll take a lot of confidence from this game and try to do it again Thursday against D.C.”
All five of FC Cincinnati’s wins have come when it has scored at least two goals. FCC, who have not recorded a clean sheet since beating New England 2-0 on March 24, have two points from 14 matches when scoring one or no goals.
FC Cincinnati will honor U.S. Women’s National Team midfielder and Cincinnati native Rose Lavelle at halftime. Lavelle completed the scoring with a second-half goal in the 2-0 victory over the Netherlands in the Women’s World Cup final earlier this month.
This will be the first meeting between the teams, who never met in U.S. Open Cup play prior to FC Cincinnati joining MLS this year.
(Spencer Richey photo courtesy FC Cincinnati official Twitter account)