2022-05-09 09:01:13 By : Mr. Tiger World

Since he arrived last month, Taxi Fountas has been well received by his new team, D.C. United. Despite speaking little English, the Greek attacker is forging strong bonds with coaches and teammates. And on the field, he has performed with a level of class that has lifted the spirits of the struggling team and provided a pair of critical home victories.

In the cold and rain and wind Saturday night at Audi Field, Fountas gave another two-goal, first-half performance as United rebounded from a three-goal thumping last weekend to defeat the Houston Dynamo, 2-0, before an announced 15,194.

The team’s marquee signing and highest-paid player used terrific technique on a one-timer from the top of the box in the 35th minute and was clinical from close range in the 43rd. It gave him four goals in four appearances and provided another lift to a team that already has gone through a coaching change, a four-game losing streak and a plunge into last place in the Eastern Conference.

“Taxi is guy that brings something to the team that we’ve missed a little bit, that final ball,” wing back Julian Gressel said. “Once he is in a scoring position, he really finishes his chances.”

Midfielder Russell Canouse said Fountas “has a killer instinct.”

Gressel and Canouse, who, like Fountas, speak German, playfully tried to persuade him to join them in the postgame news conference.

“Taxi didn’t want to come!” Canouse said, smiling.

United (4-5-0) won for the second time in seven outings, with the other victory coming against New England three days after Hernán Losada’s firing. In that one, Fountas had two goals and an assist before intermission of a 3-2 home victory.

Houston (3-4-3) didn’t show much in its first visit to Buzzard Point since the stadium opened in 2018. In posting its first shutout since the second week, United escaped some harrowing moments a week after it conceded three goals directly or indirectly off set pieces in Columbus.

“We didn’t turn off like we turned off in Columbus,” interim coach Chad Ashton said. “We were focused the entire time. Our mentality was good. … Everybody wanted to keep the zero really bad, and that showed.”

It wasn’t all good news for United, which lost goalkeeper Bill Hamid to a leg injury early in the second half. He was making his first appearance since he hurt a hamstring a few weeks ago. In Hamid’s place, newly signed Rafael Romo made his MLS debut.

Hamid received a cut on his lower right leg late in the first half and needed six or seven stitches, according to Ashton. He stayed in the game and returned after halftime, but after his first activity, he began limping again.

“I told him, ‘If I see anything that looks off, we’re going to pull you out,’ ” Ashton said. “We didn’t want to mess with it.”

By then, United was ahead by two goals. In the 35th minute, after Fountas had tested Steve Clark from 25 yards, Gressel served a corner kick to the top of the penalty area. No one was marking Fountas, who snapped a one-timer that drifted over several defenders and past the screened Clark.

His second goal was the result of perseverance and ruthlessness. Brad Smith crossed from the left. On the back side, Fountas didn’t settle the ball cleanly but pulled it from defender Adam Lundqvist before ripping an eight-yard shot that blazed past Clark and into the near top corner.

Fountas’s bid for a hat trick in the 59th minute was thwarted by the diving Clark. He missed wide in the 67th and left in the 77th.

One-on-one with Matias Vera, Romo made an excellent kick save — a rare opportunity yielded by United, which kept its shape and composure and handed Houston a third consecutive defeat.

“Every time we pick up three points, it’s a confidence-booster,” Ashton said, “but to do it the right way is also breeding the mentality we want to see week in, week out.”

Here’s what else to know from United’s victory:

The goalkeeping position had a fresh look as Hamid returned sooner than expected from a hamstring ailment. With Romo eligible, Jon Kempin, who had started the previous two matches, was not in uniform. Luis Zamudio, the backup in recent weeks, resumed full-time duty with second-tier Loudoun United.

Aside from Hamid, the other notable lineup change was in defensive midfield, where rookie Sofiane Djeffal replaced Chris Durkin and made his fourth start. Durkin, who came on for Djeffal in the 67th minute, had started four consecutive matches since he left Belgian club Sint-Truiden and rejoined United.

United officials remain in communication with representatives for Welsh star Gareth Bale, people with direct knowledge of the team’s pursuit said, but several European clubs are in the race, and a decision is not expected until after Wales’s World Cup qualifying playoff next month. United, one person said, has three other European-based players on its shortlist for its last designated player contract. The transfer window will reopen July 7.

United will break from the MLS schedule Tuesday to host the New York Red Bulls in the U.S. Open Cup’s round of 32. D.C.'s next league match is Saturday at Inter Miami (3-6-1).