D.C. United entered Wednesday's match with the Chicago Fire bearing a three-game winless streak -- and a 280-minute scoring drought -- that threatened to derail their season before July.
But the Black-and-Red vanquished both burdens in an entertaining and thoroughly unpredictable shootout that induced memories of the club's many past barnburners at RFK Stadium, twice coming from behind to edge the Fire 4-3 thanks to a late match-winner from rookie Bobby Boswell.
"In one word, amazing," said United head coach Peter Nowak.
United created more chances in the first half, but gifted the visitors a 2-0 first-half lead thanks to an opportunistic strike from Chris Rolfe and a counterattacking move that in-form striker Nate Jaqua capped with a header from close range.
"We broke down defensively," said United netminder Nick Rimando. "It was a real shocker -- we fell asleep on all those goals. Good thing our offense woke up and scored some goals for us."
Jesse Marsch threw D.C. a lifeline in the half's dying moments, fouling Santino Quaranta to set up a penalty kick that Jaime Moreno converted to cut the lead. Then the home side came out swinging in the second stanza, as Christian Gomez tallied the first of his two goals in the 47th minute.
"We were down, but obviously we weren't out," said United winger Josh Gros. "We knew we could get right back into it. We had chances, a lot more chances than goals, and we knew they were coming."
The squad was clearly motivated by Nowak's stern words at the break.
"(Giving up) the two goals made me upset in the locker room at halftime," he said. "I told them, 'This is not us. Show what we are all about.' I reminded them that we are still MLS Cup champions."
However, United found their backs against the wall yet again when Gonzalo Segares restored Chicago's lead with a well-taken goal just past the hour mark.
But Gomez struck again off a pinpoint cross from Dema Kovalenko, then Boswell proved to be the unlikeliest of heroes as he tapped home from point-blank range in the 86th minute, with the assist coming from an equally improbable source, his fellow defender David Stokes.
"That felt great, especially late in the game," said Boswell. "But I think it was a great team effort. We had to win this game. It's great that we won it - the result is what matters - but hopefully next game we won't give up goals and have to fight back."
The victory sets up United for yet another grudge match with the undefeated New England Revolution, who visit the nation's capital on Saturday evening.
"It was definitely a confidence-booster," said Rimando. "But again, we have to stop letting those soft goals in. We got some goals, and that's definitely good for our confidence heading into this weekend against the first-place team in the league. We're looking forward to that game."
Charles Boehm is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.