D.C. United reclaimed the top spot in the Eastern Conference as they scored twice in the opening quarter of the match then held on down the stretch, defeating the Kansas City Wizards 2-1 at RFK Stadium on Saturday night in the meeting of the top two teams in the division.
Goals from Alecko Eskandarian and Jaime Moreno (from the penalty spot) bookended a penalty from Sasha Victorine as all three goals were scored in a 12-minute span early in the first half.
The game got off to a rapid start, and the Wizards created the game's first opportunity seven minutes in, after Josh Gros clattered into the back of Davy Arnaud as he cut inside from the right wing to set up a choicely-positioned free kick that Jose Burciaga smacked just high of the target.
Paced by Christian Gomez, the home side crafted a few half-chances in the early going, but the game truly erupted into life in the 12th minute when Eskandarian humbled Bo Oshoniyi with a jaw-dropping strike from 15 yards out to give D.C. the lead.
There looked to be little danger when Gomez lifted a delicate diagonal ball into the left-footed striker's path just outside the Wizards box. But where most players would have looked to cross to the far post, Eskandarian blasted a first-time volley that glanced off the inside of the near post and past the stunned Kansas City netminder, hitting his shot with such force that it glanced off the back of the net and whistled out on the other side.
But United produced an equally astonishing moment at the other end barely four minutes later to gift their visitors an equalizer. As Ryan Pore raced down the right channel into the D.C. penalty area, he tricked Freddy Adu with a quick feint to the inside and the teenager rashly extended his arm into the striker's path.
It was the slightest of touches, but Pore made the most of the contact and sprawled to the turf -- and to Adu's disbelief, referee Gus St. Silva emphatically pointed to the spot. The crafty move brought scorn from the United faithful, but Wizards veteran Victorine held his nerve and sent Troy Perkins the wrong way with his spot kick, tying the match.
The boos got louder when United captain Jaime Moreno was muscled down in the K.C. box seconds later as the home side swarmed forward in response, only for St. Silva to wave off the Bolivian's appeals.
But the man in the middle did decide to blow his whistle on another controversial play in the visitors penalty area in the 23rd minute. This time it was Eskandarian's turn to go to ground thanks to a heavy shoulder challenge by Matt Groenwald, and to the astonishment of Wizards boss Bob Gansler and his staff, St. Silva indicated it was D.C.'s turn to shoot from the spot.
Moreno buried the penalty to Oshoniyi's left, restoring his club's advantage and reviving the spirits of the 18,345 fans on hand.
With RFK turning into a cauldron of noise, the Wizards were clearly unsettled by the tumultuous turn of events, but they had only themselves to blame when Scott Sealy missed a sitter that should have drawn his side level again in the 37th minute.
Breaking down the right channel again, Wizards midfielder Jack Jewsbury found space to slap a low, sharply-angled shot towards the far post and a diving Perkins could only parry the ball straight into the goalmouth. Sealy was the man on hand and with an empty net yawning in front of him, should have been celebrating a perfectly-timed tally for his team -- but he shanked his shot high and wide.
Kansas City put their hosts on the back foot again as the second stanza began, pushing forward and earning three corner kicks in quick succession, but Perkins and his defense held steady and eventually cleared the danger.
D.C. nearly got themselves into trouble at the back in the 57th minute, however, when Bobby Boswell let a through ball slip underneath him and Facundo Erpen was slow to clear as Jewsbury pressured. Jewsbury dispossessed the Argentinean at the top of the United box and had only Perkins to beat, but the United 'keeper was well off the goal line to cut down his shooting angle and was able to palm his high shot to safety.
Kansas City found themselves defending constantly as United looked for the game-clinching goal, but the Midwesterners still posed a grave threat with their quick, opportunistic forays forward. One such move nearly paid dividends in the 68th minute when Davy Arnaid's fiercely-struck shot ricocheted off a startled Perkins and spun towards the net, but the goalie recovered in time to smother the loose ball.
Adu had a great chance to put the result out of reach in the final moments, but he could only fire directly at the K.C. 'keeper after Moreno flicked an inviting pass into his run.
As time slipped away, Oshoniyi also made several spectacular saves on Moreno and substitute Jamil Walker to preserve the Wizards' flickering hopes. But despite the addition of attackers Jermaine Hue and Yura Movsisyan, his teammates couldn't will themselves to a miraculous equalizer and returned home empty-handed and out of first place in the East.
Charles Boehm is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.