The Union came flying out of the gates and rode three early goals to a 4-1 win over D.C. United Saturday night at Subaru Park.
A strong spell of high pressure led to five Union scoring chances in the game’s first seven minutes. The fifth produced a goal by Kacper Pryzybylko, who deposited Jamiro Monteiro’s corner kick after beating D.C.’s defense to the far post.
Przybylko scored again nine minutes later, thumping a low shot from atop the 18-yard box after a nifty cutback.
There was, admittedly a disclaimer to this: a slew of D.C. regulars were out of action. They included stalwart goalkeeper Bill Hamid, centerbacks Frédéric Brillant and Steve Birnbaum, defensive midfielder Russell Canouse, and top playmaker Edison Flores.
United manager Ben Olsen was forced to shoehorn his starters into an untraditional 3-5-2 formation, and his bench was three players short of the nine allowed by MLS this summer.
But the Union (4-1-3, 15 points) weren’t going to ask permission to play on, and they kept the gas pedal down. Sergio Santos made it 3-0 in the 21st with a rip of his own after a charge down the left flank.
“We were very creative tonight — our offense really did click,” Union manager Jim Curtin said. “We took some risk, we kind of let things fly.”
The only bad news of the half for the Union came in the 27th minute when left back Kai Wagner had to leave the game with what looked like a right leg injury.
Curtin said withdrawing Wagner was “a little precautionary,” since Wagner has been banged up a fair amount this year. But with the big lead and a big game at second-place Columbus coming Wednesday (7:30 p.m. PHL17), the decision was easy to make.
Each side made a substitution at halftime. For the Union, Warren Creavalle replaced José Andrés Martínez, who had drawn a yellow card in the 10th minute; for D.C., 17-year-old prospect Griffin Yow replaced Yamil Asad in attacking midfield. And Mother Nature weighed in with a torrential rainstorm that started as the players took the field, but petered out 10 minutes later.
Brenden Aaronson scored the Union’s fourth on a breakaway in the 61st minute, his first goal since March 9. Olivier Mbaizo, getting a rare start at right back, started the play with a beautiful first-touch cross-field long ball to Przybylko. He squared a pass into the 18-yard box for Aaronson to run on to, and the Medford native delivered with a finish in stride.
Julian Gressel scored for D.C. (1-4-3. 6 points) two minutes later, which gave Curtin something to prod his defense about on a night when he had few complaints. There were more substitutions right after that, the Union’s being Ilsinho for Santos and Andrew Wooten for Przybylko.
The rest of the night passed with just one more notable moment: Curtin sent in academy product Jack de Vries for Aaronson in the 87th minute, giving the 18-year-old his second MLS appearance and his first at Subaru Park.
“It’s been a busy week with, again, things more important going on than soccer,” Curtin said. “But overall, for the mentality and focus of our group, I really can commend our players. Through the last six, seven months, it’s been the most unique season I’ve ever been a part of, and these players deserve a ton of credit for the intensity that they play with, the focus that they play with in unique circumstances.”