D.C. United 3, Montreal Impact 0

In search of a convincing victory to reassure itself after its recent winning streak came to an end, D.C. United couldn’t have picked a better opponent than expansion Montreal. The Impact, in the midst of a brutal and unrelenting schedule, arrived in Washington greeted by stifling heat and trotted out risky changes to its lineup against MLS’ most potent offense.

It was no surprise, then, that United (10-5-3) bounced back with a 3-0 shutout victory that was never in doubt. The encouraging signs have D.C. beginning the second half of the season not just with an eye on getting into the playoffs for the first time since 2007, but doing so with room to spare.

“I thought it was a pretty professional performance today, a pretty complete performance,” United coach Ben Olsen said. “Searching for that third goal was important, and I think again overall it’s not that Montreal has their full strength and a week’s rest. But no matter what you have to take advantage of teams that are down on their luck, and I think we did that today. We stepped on them.”

Chris Pontius thought it was five wins in a row his team since the season opener. It’s actually six, and his goal on the stroke of halftime was the back breaker before a season-high crowd of 18,302 in sweltering heat at RFK Stadium.

Receiving the ball 35 yards out, Pontius shook off Impact midfielder Sinisa Ubiparipovic and raced toward goal. As he entered the box, he turned around rookie Calum Mallace – who was making his MLS debut – with a trademark cut to his right foot. But after surprising and deadly touch back to his left, Pontius was wide open to slam the ball inside the far post and past goalkeeper Evan Bush, who was also making his MLS debut, pressed into duty while Donovan Ricketts was on the bench for the first time all season.

“It’s always a killer to get a goal before halftime,” said Pontius, who scored 31 seconds into last weekend’s game at the New York Red Bulls, a game D.C. trailed 2-1 at the break. “You saw what it did to us up in New York.”

Sanna Nyassi had Montreal’s best and only chance of the game in 11th minute. Breaking free down the middle, his low shot forced a sprawling save from United goalkeeper Bill Hamid, who tipped it out for a corner.

Mallace, who took blame for the first goal, nearly gifted D.C. in the 25th minute, turning a pass from Dwayne De Rosario into his own net. Luckily, the ball deflected off the post, and Mallace was replaced at halftime by Jeb Brovsky.

Injury-ravaged Montreal, in its fifth game in 15 days – with another two to play in the coming week – also played without suspended Patrice Bernier and didn’t get recently-signed designated player Marco Di Vaio onto the field until the second half. United, meanwhile, got their fourth assist in five games from Branko Boskovic, who made his sixth start of the season a day after he agreed to a new contract.

In the 50th minute, Boskovic’s curling service found Robbie Russell for a diving header and his first goal since coming to D.C. last offseason.

“It means a lot to me,” Russell said. “It’s just me building my own reputation and building my own love of D.C. United. This club means a lot to me. But I’ll still take that zero over the goal.”

Montreal coach Jesse Marsch disputed the call on Collen Warner for a foul on Andy Najar that led to the free kick.

“I don’t think it’s a foul,” Marsch said. “I thought the ref was terrible. This was one of the most one-sided reffed games I’ve seen. We look at ourselves any time, but the ref did us no favors.”

Bush made his fourth save in second-half stoppage time but gave up a rebound on Nick DeLeon’s shot to Hamdi Salihi, whose fifth goal put United back in sole possession of first place in the Eastern Conference.

“One of our goals this year is to take back RFK and make it a fortress to play against us this year, and I think we’ve done that,” Pontius said. “We always say if we win at home then we find the road to be a playoff team. So, we are winning at home and we are doing all right on the road as well. We need to get a couple more results on the road and boost ourselves and create the gap between us and some of the top teams in the East.”