WASHINGTON - D.C. United ended their three-game losing streak with an assured 5-1 victory against expansion side Real Salt Lake in the first-ever meeting between the teams on Wednesday night, re-energizing United's playoff drive and dealing a crushing blow to Real's fading postseason hopes.
Jaime Moreno scored a pair of goals - giving him 90 for his MLS career to move into second on the all-time list, passing former record holder Roy Lassiter and getting to within 10 of Real striker Jason Kreis - while Freddy Adu, Christian Gomez and Jamil Walker also hit the back of the net.
The home side kept Real netminder Jay Nolly busy from the early going, first forcing the rookie into a spectacular save off a Gomez free kick in the fifth minute. Kenny Cutler's clumsy challenge on Adu set up the inviting chance just outside the visitors penalty area, and the Argentinean curled a vicious shot that Nolly did well to touch onto the post.
But United left the rookie goalkeeper helpless in the 13th minute, as a savvy through ball by Ben Olsen sliced open the Salt Lake back four. Kept onside by Paul Broome on the far side, Gomez ran onto Olsen's pass and cut the ball past Nolly just before the 'keeper slammed him to the turf. Referee Alex Prus pointed to the spot, and Moreno stepped up to slot the penalty kick into the left side netting.
In the 22nd minute, Moreno found Olsen making another astute diagonal run into the box that gave the veteran midfielder time to lay off for Gomez eight yards out, who lofted a delightful chip over Nolly that was headed for the far corner, only to be headed off the line by Eddie Pope. But the visitors rallied to create their best chance of the half just moments later, as Mathis whipped in a dangerous free kick from the right channel that Jason Kreis struck deftly with a diving header. The effort arrowed past Rimando and clanged down off the crossbar, falling right at a startled Pope's feet. But with an empty goal gaping in front of him, the former United star couldn't keep his first-time shot from blazing over the top.
Making his first start in almost a month, Adu had been energetic all half, combining well with Gomez and Moreno up front. But he didn't need much help in injury time when he unleashed a long-distance drive that stunned Nolly and curled just inside the far post.
Adu had dribbled to some 30 yards from the Salt Lake goal and his stutter-step gave away his intentions to shoot, but the Real 'keeper seemed to see the ball late and could only watch as it flashed past him to give D.C. a 2-0 lead going into the break.
The Real offsides trap looked suspect again just after halftime, as Pope and his fellow defenders reacted late to a long diagonal ball from Bryan Namoff, making a rare start at right midfield. Moreno took advantage of the mistake and bore down on Nolly alone, but the United captain wasted what should've been a simple finish as he fired straight at the goalkeeper's legs.
To the RFK crowd's dismay, John Ellinger's side made D.C. pay for the mistake just three minutes later. The United back line struggled to deal with a long ball, the rebound falling to Andy Williams in the right channel. He knocked a well-weighted diagonal ball into Melvin Tarley's path and Rimando raced off his line, only to watch the former Minnesota Thunder star cut past him and deposit his first-ever MLS goal into an empty net in his MLS debut.
Moreno somehow missed another one-on-one opportunity in the 58th minute after being set free by an Olsen through ball, Nolly turning aside his low shot. Yet the rookie netminder undid all that good work in the 64th minute when he allowed Gomez to put his side in another two-goal hole.
The United playmaker had latched onto a well-hit cross from Josh Gros but volleyed right at Nolly, who spilled the bouncing effort right on the doorstep. Gomez had alertly followed his shot and had no difficulty in slamming home the rebound from close range.
Moreno's frustrating second half finally came to a close in the 77th minute, when he notched his league-leading 12th goal of the season. Gros's lateral pass found him lurking at the top of the 18-yard box and the veteran snapped a first-time shot past Nolly to add to United's cushion.
The Bolivian left the field to warm applause minutes later, and Jamil Walker, his replacement, completed the rout with a confident finish to take the score to 5-1, running onto a Clyde Simms pass that once again split open the Real back line.
MLSnet.com Man of the Match: Jaime Moreno (D.C. United)
Charles Boehm is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.