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Early intensity the difference as Union handle D.C. United

Two games between the Union and D.C. United at Subaru Park – one in MLS play in May, one in Leagues Cup this month – yielded no goals and even less intrigue. They  pointed to a visiting team hovering near the playoff line banishing the demons of a pair of humblings in 2023 in which they conceded a baker’s dozen of goals.

That trend reserved Saturday in Washington, the Union capitalizing on D.C. mistakes to score three times in the first half and collect three points in a 3-1 win. Manager Jim Curtin pointed to intensity from the opening tap as being the biggest difference from those previous snoozefests.

“I talked to our guys, this game sets the tone for our final 11 games,” Curtin said. “I think they really bought into that.”

The Union (13-7-4, 43 points) did in the first 45 minutes what they should do to inferior teams. They blitzed D.C. out of the gates, creating and finishing chances.

The first goal featured four guys pressing, causing a turnover and a quick action to goal, with Julian Carranza getting the recovery and feeding Mikael Uhre to bury his eighth of the season. Jose Martinez created the second goal with an end-to-end run after the Union cleared a free kick, and Jack McGlynn made the heady far-post run to be in position to tuck away the service in the 13th minute.

In the 38th, Daniel Gazdag made it 17-for-17 in regular-season penalty kicks. He created the danger, his over-the-top ball springing Carranza, who was clattered over by D.C. goalie Tyler Miller in the box.

It was a little bit of everything attack-wise in the team’s first MLS game in six weeks.

“I thought that we were brave,” Curtin said. “I thought that we started the game being proactive rather than reactive, which is important for us. And the previous two games (against D.C.) weren’t the most exciting. There were chances in both of those games, but to score the first one, you know how well we play with the lead. It causes teams to open up, and that’s when we’re at our best.”

The win moves the Union to second place in the East. New England and Orlando City also have 43 points but with one fewer win each. The Union hold a game in hand on Orlando and fifth-place Columbus, which has 12 wins and 42 points, while Atlanta is sixth with 41 points and 11 wins from 26 games.

The three points came at a cost. The Union allowed D.C. (8-12-6, 30 points) eight on target. Andre Blake made seven saves, including a superb sliding denial of Christian Benteke in the 49th minute to save a header millimeters before it crossed the line fully. There was no stopping Ted Ku-DiPietro’s rocket in the 88th, though, denying the Union a ninth shutout.

Martinez’s lung-busting run may have ended up injuring his hamstring, the Venezuelan limping off after 26 minutes. Curtin said Martinez felt it tighten, and the manager is optimistic about getting him back for next weekend’s visit from the New York Red Bulls, though Wednesday’s trip to Toronto is likely out.

Carranza, back from a hamstring issue, logged 64 minutes. Jesus Bueno, who nearly scored a third goal in four games and remains in search of his first MLS goal, went 64 minutes, replaced by Alejandro Bedoya. Those two and Leon Flach, who entered for Martinez, will likely be pushed against Toronto if Martinez can’t go.

Had the Union finished more of their chances and made the game more lopsided, Curtin might have a fresher squad to draw on in Toronto. But road points are road points, and Curtin was happy to do whatever it took to get a fifth road win. After Toronto, the Union finish with six of nine games in Chester, a chance to mount a charge at the 11-point gap to league-leading FC Cincinnati.

“I said it to the guys, last year, we lost home-field advantage on a tiebreaker,” Curtin said. “Every point matters. Every goal matters for the goals (for) tiebreaker and every win matters. That’s really the way it has to be these last 10 games. We want to start that playoff feel now rather than trying to flick a switch in the last four games of the year.”

Source: Berkshire mont

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