A collective exhale could be heard from the New England Revolution locker room after narrowly averting a D.C. United comeback in a rematch of last season's Eastern Conference Final that had everyone on the edge of their seats.
The Revs went on a goal-scoring frenzy in the first half, going up 3-0 within a six-minute stretch and looking like a lock to stay unbeaten on the season.
But the game was truly a tale of two halves. United came storming back, connecting on a Jaime Moreno penalty kick five minutes into first-half stoppage time, and carried that momentum into the second half as they pressured the Revolution defense relentlessly. United's Santino Quaranta cut the lead to 3-2 in the second half, but New England didn't sit back, giving itself a two-goal cushion with Clint Dempsey's breathtaking diving header in the 77th minute.
United made things interesting with another Moreno penalty kick conversion five minutes later, but the Revs held on to their 4-3 lead to earn a valuable three points on the road.
Revolution forward Taylor Twellman, who was in the mix throughout, opened the scoring (and the floodgates) in the 26th minute, collecting a pass from Clint Dempsey, holding off a defender and confidently putting the ball out of United goalkeeper Nick Rimando's reach.
"The ball came loose and I just tried to lose my man and get the ball on the frame," said Twellman. "Fortunately, it went in."
Twellman, well aware that winning at RFK Stadium is no small feat, certainly did his part to ensure the favorable outcome for his side. He said he was impressed by the unity and resiliency of his teammates as well.
"I think our movement [as a team] was good, from the midfield up to the top," said Twellman. "We did that well in the first half, but the last five minutes of the first half and into the second half, they put our defense under pressure ... but we only gave up one goal not including the penalty kicks. Anytime you can get a win here, you'll take it."
Midfielder Shalrie Joseph followed Twellman's lead when he scored on a penalty kick only two minutes later. Before United knew what hit them, Marshall Leonard took a pass from rookie James Riley and made it a three-goal Revolution advantage with a solid strike past Rimando in the 31st minute.
Leonard credited his teammate with putting him in an ideal position to score.
"Riley took the ball and turned, and had a lot of space," said Leonard. "He took a player on and I just tried to spread out wide. He played a great ball to space, I ran onto it and struck it first touch."
Revolution head coach Steve Nicol says he is optimistic about his team's early season performance -- especially their offensive output. Nicol's squad has now scored nine goals in its first three matches.
"We came out sluggish but we got ourselves in the game. We passed the ball well and got some good chances," said Nicol. "To get four goals on the road is obviously very good. We were holding on at the end of the game, but we'll take it.
"I have no idea whether we're playing better than everybody else [in MLS], but we're just trying to do what we want to do and win some games."
Nicol said he was impressed by the play of midfielder Clint Dempsey, who notched an assist on the Twellman goal and whose late-game header proved to be the difference.
"Everything he [Dempsey] does is positive," said Nicol.
Leonard agreed. "Clint got in a good spot and headed it right down to the corner [of the goal]," he said. "It's tough for a 'keeper to stop that."
Dempsey's post-goal celebratory antics were also noteworthy, as he ran to home plate (RFK Stadium is shared by Major League Baseball's Washington Nationals) and did his best Manny Ramirez impression, pretending to swing a baseball bat and knock one out of the park. The stunt drew smiles from teammates and coaches -- and surely resentment from the always vocal United faithful, who are unaccustomed to losing at home.
Twellman summed up the excitement of the match and the growing rivalry between the Revs and United: "When the two of us play, you get pretty good soccer. If you're a soccer fan, I think you want to watch this game."
Nicol added, "Seven goals must have been great to watch for the fans."
New England hopes to continue their strong play and knack for finding the back of the net four days from now, as they take on Chicago at Soldier Field on Wednesday night.
Omar Garriott is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.