At halftime, D.C. United looked like it would arise out of its funk emphatically, after bossing around the New England Revolution and heading into the break with a 1-0 lead that could have been much larger.
But by the end of the contest, it was more of the same as United let a two-goal lead slip and New England clawed back to claim a 2-2 draw at Gillette Stadium.
Luciano Emilio opened the scoring after 15 minutes with a diving header after Matt Reis saved from a Clyde Simms blast. United extended the lead eight minutes after the interval through Fred's drive off another rebound from a Reis save, before the Revs drew one back when substitute Adam Cristman sidefooted home a Kheli Dube pass. Soon, the Revs were level after Dube headed home from four yards to claim an unlikely point at home and a place atop the Eastern Conference.
United defender Gonzalo Peralta missed the contest after remaining in Washington with his wife expecting the birth of a child. Dominic Mediate started in the center of a four-man defense in his place. Franco Niell was named on the bench as part of the 18-man gameday roster with Peralta's late withdrawal.
With Kenny Mansally on international duty with The Gambia and Taylor Twellman on the sidelines with an ankle injury, Sainey Nyassi partnered Dube at forward. Khano Smith settled for a place on the bench.
United enjoyed the better of the play in the opening 20 minutes as the Revs insisted on drawing their strikers wide, ultimately losing possession in the attacking third. This stretched out the home side and left D.C. playmaker Marcelo Gallardo with room to operate in the middle of the field.
Clyde Simms' effort after 10 minutes forced Reis to deflect the shot over the bar, but there was no stopping Emilio from grabbing his second goal in two games in the 15th minute.
Gallardo played a free kick in from the left wing that Shalrie Joseph could only head straight into the air. Simms came through and forced a reaction save from Reis, but the rebound deflected right to Emilio, who dove to head home towards the lower corner.
New England attempted to find some offensive rhythm, forcing a corner kick that produced a Jay Heaps shot and conjured a save from Zach Wells.
But most of the action remained down the other side of the field, with Reis in inspired form. The Revs 'keeper kicked away a Jaime Moreno effort after Gallardo started a break and then rushed off his line to thwart Fred's attempt minutes later.
Revs head coach Nicol withdrew Wells Thompson before the break, inserting Adam Cristman at striker and shifting Nyassi out to the right wing.
The move nearly paid immediate dividends in first-half stoppage time after Nyassi's cross from the right eluded Bryan Namoff at the far post and located Dube. Dube struck his shot towards goal, but Namoff recovered and deflected the ball over the crossbar with his chest.
The intervention proved crucial as United extended its lead shortly after the break. Fred spurned a breakaway attempt a minute earlier, but buried his next opportunity after Michael Parkhurst's clearance of an Emilio shot ended up with Moreno at the top of the penalty area. Reis made another save from Moreno before Fred tucked home the rebound at the near post.
Yet the Revs responded six minutes later to halve the deficit. Mauricio Castro's cross from the left wasn't dealt with by Fred. The ball deflected to Dube, who slid a pass into Cristman and watched as the substitute slid home past Wells.
Remarkably, New England drew level through Dube on 72 minutes. Dube drew a free kick after Gonzalo Martinez's reckless challenge and then nodded home after Larentowicz squared Ralston's free kick across the goal area.
Martinez nearly headed home an own goal from 22 yards after a Wells clearance, hassled by the onrushing Khano Smith, whacked off a United defender. Martinez beat Dube to the ball but headed backwards, forcing Wells to rush back and claim it before it tucked inside the near post.
Neither team really threatened in the final 20 minutes with Cristman's hook over the bar in the stoppage time the closest either team came to breaking the deadlock.
Kyle McCarthy is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.