Under the daunting skies of tropical storm Charley, D.C. United and the New England Revolution slogged out a tense 2-2 draw Saturday night in a physical Eastern Conference meeting at RFK Stadium.
United will feel unlucky not to have secured a crucial victory after dominating possession and playing more attractive soccer, but as they have so many times before, Steve Nicol's Revs came up with a dogged, workmanlike performance to steal a draw in the dying moments.
Jaime Moreno continued his inspiring revival with a two-goal performance, but goals from Steve Ralston and Andy Dorman secured a valuable point for the Revs, who remain just two points back of D.C. in the Eastern Conference standings.
In his first game back from one-game suspension, D.C. defender Bryan Namoff overcame a frightening two-footed slide tackle from Marshall Leonard in the ninth minute. Namoff carried the ball into the New England box before dishing to Alecko Eskandarian, but the second-year forward could only scuff his shot wide.
The sloppy conditions were any goalkeeper's nightmare, as displayed by Troy Perkins' unsure reaction to an early Revs free kick that skipped though the six-yard box uncontested, spinning just wide of the D.C. goal.
In the 17th minute, off a free kick from the left wing, Cancela sent a dangerous service into the box that Perkins did well to punch clear. At the other end, Josh Gros was running rampant on United's left flank, but most of his crosses failed to connect with a teammate.
Four minute later, Earnie Stewart sent a towering corner kick to the far post, where big defender Ezra Hendrickson got his head onto the ball and flicked it across the face of goal. Gros found himself in scoring position but his volley sailed high over the crossbar.
In the 24th minute, desperate defending from United denied the Revs a goal after Pat Noonan beat Dema Kovalenko to a poorly hit square ball and carried into the D.C. box.
Noonan's centering pass looked like an easy finish for Twellman, but Brandon Prideaux slid in and blocked the shot from point-blank range. The RFK Stadium crowd was on the edge of its seats as the ball ricocheted around the box before the Black-and-Red could finally clear.
At the half-hour mark, Gros found space on the left side again, cutting inside and unleashing a drive from the edge of the New England box, but Matt Reis was perfectly positioned to gobble up the shot.
Three minutes later, Eskandarian thought he had netted his seventh goal of the year after stroking home Kovalenko's cross, but the assistant referee's flag was up for offside, much to the displeasure of the United faithful.
In the 38th minute, Revs veteran Steve Ralston gave his team a surprise lead with a classy finish. After Noonan carried the ball to the endline and centered, Ralston stepped around a sliding Stewart, then juked Ben Olsen and hit side netting from 12 yards out. A diving Perkins got a hand to the shot, but was unable to keep it out.
But United struck back immediately, gaining a well-deserved equalizer from Moreno. Gros pressured Heaps, preventing the Revs defender from clearing Kovalenko's cross, and the ball bounced around the box before falling to Moreno at the six-yard box. The Bolivian feinted and cut around a defender before slotting home from close range.
United was clearly the better side in the first half, but their season-long inability to take control of matches would come back to haunt them again.
Nicol must have given his team some inspiring words at halftime, because New England came out with renewed energy and purpose in the second stanza.
The Revs immediately pressured D.C.'s back line, and in the 48th minute, Perkins made his first save of the game with an acrobatic denial of Noonan from close range. The rookie 'keeper then came up big again moments later when he blocked a charging Twellman at the near post.
D.C. finally gained the lead in the 56th minute with more elegant play from Moreno.
Kovalenko had ample time in midfield to spot several gaping holes in the New England back line, and he placed a beautiful through ball into one of them to spring the Bolivian. The United veteran dribbled into the box and cut around the sprawling Reis, then patiently waited for the onrushing Ralston to slide past before finishing into an empty net.
In the 66th minute, Hendrickson preserved D.C.'s lead with a sprawling block of Shalrie Joseph's close-range shot off a New England corner kick, as United's ongoing inability to handle the Revs on set pieces continued to hamper their defensive efforts.
Nicol rolled the dice with a double substitution in the 68th minute, inserting Richie Baker and Felix Brillant in search of an equalizer. D.C. coach Peter Nowak responded in kind with a defensive sub, bringing Mike Petke on in place of Eskandarian.
Freddy Adu's steadily increasing confidence was displayed in the 71st minute as he took off on a solo run at the Revs defense, forcing a hard foul from Rusty Pierce that earned the defender a yellow card. Adu also took the resulting free kick, hitting a swerving shot that glanced off the New England wall for a corner kick.
On the corner, Moreno was narrowly denied a hat trick as he rose to nod a header on goal, but Reis was on hand to grab the shot safely.
Olsen, showing his usual commitment and passion in the center of midfield, was harshly penalized for a sliding challenge on Ralston, and was further surprised to see a yellow card come out of Toledo's pocket in the 79th.
Moments later, Hendrickson made a marauding run out of defense, charging at Pierce before laying off a delicate pass for Stewart, who fired a disappointing shot into the outside netting of the goal.
In the 85th minute, another New England corner kick created more chaos in the United box, as Joseph knocked down the ball and set up Andy Dorman for a one-time finish into the left corner. Dorman, who had come on as New England's final sub only moments before, stunned the crowd with his second goal of the season.
Momentum had clearly swung to New England's side, and almost immediately, Noonan collected the ball on the left wing and cut back on Petke before striking a rising shot towards the far post, forcing Perkins to lay out and palm the ball wide.
DC breathed a sigh of relief in injury time, when Hendrickson was caught out by a long ball to Noonan, who drew Perkins out before chipping just wide of the right post.
But when the final whistle blew, the Revs were more than happy to have stolen a draw in difficult circumstances, while United will ponder their misfortune at watching another victory slip through their grasp.
D.C. United is back in action next Saturday against Columbus at 7:30 p.m. ET (Direct Kick). The Revolution also play next Saturday, hosting the Kansas City Wizards at 7:30 p.m. ET (Direct Kick).
MLSnet.com's Man of the Match: Jaime Moreno, D.C. United
New England Revolution (5-8-8) vs. D.C. United (6-8-7)
Aug. 14, 2004 -- RFK Stadium
NE -- Steve Ralston 3 (Pat Noonan 5) 38
DC -- Jaime Moreno 5 (unassisted) 39
DC -- Jaime Moreno 6 (Dema Kovalenko 7) 56
NE -- Andy Dorman 2 (Shalrie Joseph 3, Richie Baker 5) 85
New England Revolution -- Matt Reis, Steve Ralston, Jay Heaps, Avery John, Rusty Pierce, Marshall Leonard (Richie Baker 67), Jose Cancela (Andy Dorman 85), Shalrie Joseph, Brian Kamler (Felix Brillant 67), Pat Noonan, Taylor Twellman.
Substitutes Not Used: Luke Vercollone, Doug Warren.
TOTAL SHOTS: 9 (Avery John 2, Pat Noonan 2); SHOTS ON GOAL: 6 (Avery John 2); FOULS: 9 (Marshall Leonard 3, Rusty Pierce 3); OFFSIDES: 0; CORNER KICKS: 9 (Jose Cancela 7); SAVES: 5 (Matt Reis 5)
D.C. United -- Troy Perkins, Bryan Namoff, Ezra Hendrickson, Brandon Prideaux, Earnie Stewart, Freddy Adu (Brian Carroll 81), Dema Kovalenko, Ben Olsen, Joshua Gros, Alecko Eskandarian (Mike Petke 69), Jaime Moreno.
Substitutes Not Used: Kevin Ara, Nana Kuffour, David Stokes, Andrew Terris, Jason Thompson.
TOTAL SHOTS: 15 (Jaime Moreno 5); SHOTS ON GOAL: 7 (Jaime Moreno 5); FOULS: 18 (Bryan Namoff 4); OFFSIDES: 3 (Alecko Eskandarian 2); CORNER KICKS: 6 (Earnie Stewart 4); SAVES: 4 (Troy Perkins 3)
NE -- Avery John (caution; Professional Foul) 25
NE -- Rusty Pierce (caution; Professional Foul) 71
DC -- Ben Olsen (caution; Tackle from Behind) 79
Referee: Baldomero Toledo
Referee's Assistants: -Craig Lowry; Steven Taylor
4th Official: Alex Prus
Time of Game: 1:49
All statistics contained in this boxscore are unofficial.