It was the same teams, same stadium (if you could ignore the baseball "remodeling") and the same offensive fireworks on display. But the result of Saturday's New England Revolution-D.C. United showdown was reversed from their last meeting, a riveting 3-3 draw in the 2004 Eastern Conference Final that United eventually won in a penalty kick shootout.
Though the Revolution escaped RFK Stadium with a 4-3 win this time, the home side showed impressive spirit and resilience to battle their way back from a 3-0 first half deficit, especially in light of several key injuries and head coach Peter Nowak's absence due to red card suspension.
The recent history of hard-fought, end-to-end battles between the two clubs seems to be altering the traditional MLS concepts of Eastern Conference antagonism.
The much-ballyhooed "Atlantic Cup" faceoff between United and the MetroStars, while keying on a wider cultural rift between the Nation's Capital and the Big Apple, has become rather one-sided of late. D.C. dominated the season series last year, highlighted by a 6-2 demolition at RFK in July, and swept the Metros in their first-round playoff matchup.
But United and New England have gone blow-for-blow in a series of closely contested matches, with only one goal separating the teams over their six matches in the past year. United can claim three victories over that period, but they must now confront an ascendant Revs side which has sailed to an early lead in the stacked East.
"That was a great team - a very, very good team," said United veteran Ben Olsen after Saturday's match. "With the finishers they have you really need to stay sharp and organized."
New England strikers Taylor Twellman and Pat Noonan were dangerous all evening, but it was midfielder Clint Dempsey who put the final nail in D.C.'s coffin with his 77th-minute diving header. The young Texan added fuel to the fire with his baseball-inspired goal celebration in RFK's northwest corner -- a pointed dig at United's forced cohabitation with the Washington Nationals.
Predictably, the home side was less than impressed.
"He dives a lot, so I don't know," replied Josh Gros tersely, when asked about facing off against Dempsey.
The nascent "Black and Blue" rivalry resumes in two weeks, when United travel to Gillette Stadium for what promises to be another barnburner.
Charles Boehm is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.