Alecko Eskandarian's first-half injury time goal -- his first of two on the day -- combined with Dallas playmaker Oscar Pareja's ejection just after the interval, turned out to be the deciding factors as D.C. United finally broke its four-game winless streak, beating the Dallas Burn 3-0.
On a gorgeous, early fall day of nationwide remembrance, Eskandarian's two goals and one from Freddy Adu -- all set up by Jaime Moreno -- gave United a vital three points in a crucial encounter for two sides searching for playoff form.
Pregame activities included a moving tribute to those killed on September 11, 2001, while United players wore a "9/11- Remember" patch featuring an image of the World Trade Center towers inside a pentagon.
The two faced off again Saturday, proving that there is no love lost, even a year later. But referee Ricardo Salazar and his officiating crew kept a tight rein on the two teams, and soccer outweighed fisticuffs on the day.
As they have almost all season, United started brightly, and the first clear-cut chance for either side came in the 25th minute. Despite being hacked by Simo Valakari, Moreno played Ben Olsen in clear on goal with a sublime flick, but the midfielder shot early instead of drawing Jeff Cassar off his line. The low shot was well struck but poorly aimed, skidding wide of Cassar's right post.
The cards continued to pile up as Eskandarian's foul on Pareja drew a yellow card from Salazar in the 40th minute. The ensuing free kick allowed Eric Quill to sweep a dangerous set piece service into the box that Toni Nhleko flicked just over the bar.
But then in the 45th minute, Eskandarian was the man on the spot again, smacking his eighth goal of the year into an empty net after Olsen's surging run sliced open the Dallas defense.
Moreno chested down a service into the box and when Steve Jolley was unable to clear, so Moreno laid a delicate pass into Olsen's path as the University of Virginia product charged to the endline, drawing out Cassar. Olsen's cutback was a bit too far behind Gomez, but late arrival Eskandarian eagerly slotted home to give United the lead.
The second half started off with a bang as well, as Pareja leaped to challenge an already-airborne Olsen for a header. The shorter Pareja led with his elbow, clocking Olsen in the temple and earning an immediate red card from Salazar.
The ejection stunned Dallas, who had already been dominated in terms of possession, and United continued to control play, knocking the ball around the pitch fluidly. The Black-and-Red would spend most of the game's remainder camped in the Dallas half.
In the 57th minute, Moreno played a one-two with Josh Gros at the edge of the penalty box, then chipped the ball into the air to volley a shot towards the upper corner, but Cassar was well-positioned to glove the effort. Then in the 71st, United defender Bryan Namoff, on a rare adventure into attack, found space behind the Dallas back line and centered for Ryan Nelsen in the box, but the New Zealand international hit his one-timer just high and wide with only the 'keeper to beat.
Minutes later, second-half Dallas sub Milton Reyes startled the complacent United defense with a lung-bursting run from deep in his own half, driving to the D.C. endline before cracking an angled shot that somehow missed Rimando's goal.
Adu, a 71st-minute substitute to his usual standing ovation, dazzled Reyes with some silky touches near the corner flag, then blew by the Honduran, forcing a professional foul right at the edge of the penalty box. On the ensuing free kick, Kovalenko set up Petke but the defender, unaccustomed to shooting, blasted way too far wide.
Finally, United found a way to unlock the packed Dallas defense. Moreno won the ball from Reyes right in front of the Burn bench, and carried into the box before dropping the ball off for his strike partner Eskandarian. Eskandarian was perfectly set up on his preferred left foot and made no mistake, stroking home a confident finish that Cassar tipped but could not stop.
Adu sent the RFK crowd into rapture with a coolly-taken breakaway goal in the 84th minute, beating the Burn's offside trap as Moreno played him a perfectly weighted through ball. The 15-year-old strode into the box and slotted the ball underneath Cassar, pushing the score to 3-0.
The win gives United some much-needed momentum, and they remain home next weekend to begin the final five-game stretch against Eastern Conference opposition, playing host to the Chicago Fire (7:30 p.m. ET; FSW/E). The Burn are still moored in last place in the Western Conference, but they return to the Cotton Bowl next Saturday for a crucial match against the Los Angeles Galaxy (8:30 p.m. ET).
MLSnet.com Man of the Match: Alecko Eskandarian (D.C. United)
Dallas Burn (9-11-5) vs. D.C. United (7-9-9)
September 11, 2004 -- RFK Stadium
DC -- Alecko Eskandarian 8 (Ben Olsen 2, Jaime Moreno 8) 46+
DC -- Alecko Eskandarian 9 (Jaime Moreno 9) 82
DC -- Freddy Adu 4 (Jaime Moreno 10) 84
Dallas Burn -- Jeff Cassar, Carey Talley, Cory Gibbs, Steve Jolley (Brad Davis 78), Chris Gbandi (Milton Reyes 66), Ronnie O'Brien, Oscar Pareja, Simo Valakari, Eric Quill, Eddie Johnson, Toni Nhleko (Jason Kreis 65).
Substitutes Not Used: Scott Garlick, Clarence Goodson.
TOTAL SHOTS: 5 (Toni Nhleko 2); SHOTS ON GOAL: 2 (Cory Gibbs 1, Eric Quill 1); FOULS: 15 (Eric Quill 4); OFFSIDES: 1 (Toni Nhleko 1); CORNER KICKS: 3 (Eric Quill 2); SAVES: 6 (Jeff Cassar 6)
D.C. United -- Nick Rimando, Ryan Nelsen, Mike Petke, Bryan Namoff, Christian Gomez (Brandon Prideaux 88), Brian Carroll, Joshua Gros (David Stokes 89), Ben Olsen (Freddy Adu 71), Dema Kovalenko, Alecko Eskandarian, Jaime Moreno.
Substitutes Not Used: Kevin Ara, Nana Kuffour, Troy Perkins, Santino Quaranta, Earnie Stewart, Jason Thompson.
TOTAL SHOTS: 13 (Alecko Eskandarian 3, Joshua Gros 3); SHOTS ON GOAL: 9 (3 tied with 2); FOULS: 20 (3 tied with 3); OFFSIDES: 3 (3 tied with 1); CORNER KICKS: 4 (Christian Gomez 3); SAVES: 2 (Nick Rimando 2)
DC -- Mike Petke (caution; Game Disrepute) 2
DAL -- Simo Valakari (caution; Tackle from Behind) 25
DC -- Alecko Eskandarian (caution; Persistent Infringement) 40
DC -- Jaime Moreno (caution; Professional Foul) 43
DAL -- Oscar Pareja (ejection; Violent Conduct) 46+
DAL -- Milton Reyes (caution; Tackle from Behind) 80
Referee: Ricardo Salazar
Referee's Assistants: Kermit Quisenberry; Chip Reed
4th Official: Roni Canales
Time of Game: 1:51
All statistics contained in this boxscore are unofficial.