Old adversaries clashed again at rainy RFK Stadium Saturday night, and while the stakes weren't as high as their epic 2004 Eastern Conference final slugfest, the atmosphere was just as intense -- and the scoring was even more prolific.
An opportunistic New England Revolution side was dominated for long stretches of the match, but took their chances when it counted to nip D.C. United 4-3 on the strength of three first-half goals and a fine match-winner from Clint Dempsey.
United entertained their fans with crisp possession and a never-say-die attitude over 90 minutes, but New England's three-goal flurry in six minutes around the half-hour mark proved to be their undoing.
"I thought we attacked with too many numbers and we didn't get our shape," said United coach Tom Soehn, who guided the home side in place of Peter Nowak, who was suspended following his expulsion in Columbus on April 16. "They were able to find their frontrunners too easily, and counter on us. We adjusted well after the half, but it's hard to come back when you're letting in three goals."
The Revs soaked up wave after wave of pressure in the early going, then stole the lead with a classic poacher's goal from Taylor Twellman in the 26th minute. Within moments, the visitors were on the scoreboard again when referee Mark Geiger blew for a penalty, as he judged defender Bobby Boswell to have fouled Twellman as he lunged for a cross in front of the D.C. net.
Revs holding midfielder Shalrie Joseph, who turned in a commanding box-to-box performance on the evening, slotted home the spot kick, then Marshall Leonard combined with James Riley to carve open the home defense only two minutes later, giving New England a hardly-deserved 3-0 lead.
"I guess that's why soccer is so beautiful, that stuff like that happens," said a pensive Josh Gros of the early lead. "But I thought it was definitely against the run of play."
Gros found himself in an unfamiliar spot at right back after David Stokes was lost in the first half to a concussion, but the second-year man acquitted himself well. His side hauled themselves back into the match when Santino Quaranta slotted home a Steve Guppy cross to make it 3-2 after 57 minutes, but the elusive equalizer never came despite myriad chances.
"I think in the second half, we had all the momentum, until they got that goal, and then we took the momentum again," said Gros. "But we couldn't tie it."
"That goal" was a dramatic diving header from Dempsey off an Andy Dorman free kick in the 77th minute that allowed the Revs to ride out United's attacks, though the visitors were forced to defend desperately until the final whistle.
"With the offensive firepower we have, we're not out of any game," said Quaranta. "But we're not finishing our chances, and we can do a lot of things better."
His coach echoed the sentiments.
"We never felt like we were out of it," said Soehn. "We created enough chances to come back. Unfortunately we didn't finish some of those. Obviously it's disappointing, especially at home."
Charles Boehm is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.