WASHINGTON - The defending MLS champions D.C. United returned to their winning ways Wednesday night in the Nation's Capital, thrashing a Real Salt Lake team with a crushing 5-1 defeat at RFK Stadium.
Jaime Moreno became the second-leading scorer all-time in MLS history with a pair of goals, giving him 90 for his career, surpassing former United striker Roy Lassiter and now just 10 away from RSL's Jason Kreis. Freddy Adu, Christian Gomez and Jamil Walker also scored for United, while Melvin Tarley made his Real debut and scored his first-ever MLS goal.
The game's first scoring chance belonged to United midfielder Christian Gomez in the sixth minute - a free kick from the left corner of the box that he nearly perfectly curled on goal, but it caromed off the left post and back into play. A Ben Olsen half-volley follow from the penalty spot was pounced upon by rookie Real 'keeper Jay Nolly, making his third start of the season.
On a quick counterattack, Clint Mathis floated a dangerous 22-yarder of his own onto goal, but an outstretched Nick Rimando was able to get a hand to it as he dove to his right. As the game settled in, both sides exchanged penetration into the attacking third, with United getting the lion's share of opportunities. But Kreis drew a foul from 25 yards out in the 12th minute, and Mathis hit a screamer of a free kick that soared just wide right of the frame.
Real Salt Lake would have loved to convert on the try, because the home team drew first blood only two minutes later. Ben Olsen played the ball forward that sprung fellow central midfielder Gomez into acres of space. Gomez found himself with only the goalkeeper in his way, and cleverly cut around Nolly - forcing Nolly to take him down and concede a penalty kick. Moreno made no mistake as he confidently drove his penalty low and to the right of a diving Nolly.
The 18th minute saw rookie RSL midfielder Robert Scarlett unleash a violent rip on the end of a run through the left side of the D.C. defense. In only his second MLS appearance, the Jamaican newcomer was a bright spot for coach John Ellinger, active on the left flank throughout the match.
In the 22nd minute a through ball to Gomez resulted in a near-goal, but his chipped shot over Nolly was headed off the line by Real center back Eddie Pope, back in the stadium where he provided so many memories early in his career.
A minute later, Adu seized an unclaimed ball at the top of the box after a deflected pass attempt, and one-timed a low shot heading for the right corner of the goal, but Nolly was barely able to poke it away and preserve the one-goal deficit, for the time being.
Relying principally on combination play through the midfield and over-the-top balls, the visitors were largely unable to move forward as a unit and get past the D.C. back line in the first half, though they showed flashes on quick counterattacks and set pieces. One came in the 34th minute, and it was Real's best chance of the first frame. Mathis crossed from the right side, which found the head of a diving Kreis. Kreis' header hit the bottom of the crossbar and back out, and luckily for United, Pope's point-blank first-time follow sailed over the goal.
Adu closed out the first half with a bang, however. Carrying the ball without challenge down the middle of the field in the 46th minute, Adu opportunistically struck a low, left-footed knuckler from all of 30 yards that skipped past Nolly for his third goal of the campaign.
But RSL came out with a newfound zeal to start the second half, and it paid off in the 51st minute when an Andy Williams volley found a streaking Tarley. Tarley collected the ball all alone inside the box, showed good composure to take a touch around an oncoming Rimando and put it easily into the back of an open net.
United wasn't going to sit back and cling to their narrow one-goal edge, however, and they pushed forward regularly looking to deal Salt Lake a fatal blow. That strike nearly came in the 58th minute, when a left-footed Moreno shot dribbled toward an open goal but was again cleared away just in the nick of time by Pope.
United eventually did add to their lead in the 63rd minute when a Josh Gros cross was one-timed by Gomez onto goal. Nolly impressively sprawled to block the shot, but he couldn't keep it within his grasp, coughing it up just in front of the goal. Gomez followed his own attempt and ran in unmarked to energetically drive it home from point-blank range, his ninth on the year.
Mere seconds after Gomez came off the field to roaring applause in the 77th minute, Gros notched his second assist of the evening. He played a short ball across to Moreno, who was waiting just outside the top of the penalty area and hit the cross first-time past a stunned Nolly into the lower left corner of the goal.
Frustration showed after the goal as Cutler committed a hard foul on Moreno at midfield, resulting in his second yellow of the game and forcing Real Salt Lake to play a man down for the final 10 minutes. But the onslaught from the defending champs wasn't over. Late substitute Jamil Walker received a ball in the 86th minute from fellow substitute Clyde Simms and connected with a low line drive that eluded a forlorn Nolly, giving United a lopsided 5-1 victory.
MLSnet.com Man of the Match: Jaime Moreno (D.C. United)
Omar Garriott is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.