Wednesday night at RFK Stadium, D.C. United were in a terrible situation. The team hadn't scored in over three matches, they were trailing 2-0 to an Eastern Conference opponent and the dark cloud hanging over the defending MLS Cup champions was growing bigger each second.
In the 43rd minute it looked like United were half way home to another debilitating loss. But in professional sports, major events come from seemingly insignificant decisions. That was the case for D.C.
The ball was played in to Santino Quaranta near the top of the penalty area. He turned to face the goal and saw a crowd of Chicago defenders in his way. He could have played the ball backwards to keep possession, but instead he decided to try and weave his way through the crowded area.
Usually, when players go one on five in the penalty area, the ball is quickly taken away by the defense, but this time, Quaranta was tripped up in the box for a penalty kick. Jaime Moreno converted the penalty, the lead was cut in half at the intermission and United came back to win 4-3.
The momentum for D.C. continued in their next game, as they scored two goals 70 seconds apart on their way to handing the New England Revolution their first loss of the season.
The Chicago victory on Wednesday was a result of powerful offensive play, but the New England win was secured by the defense. Newly acquired John Wilson did an excellent job in the first half defending against New England's talented striker Pat Noonan. Wilson didn't allow Noonan much space in the attacking third, and on the rare times when Noonan freed himself, the support of Bobby Boswell and Brandon Prideaux smothered any serious attempts on goal.
In the second half, David Stokes replaced Wilson but the defense continued to hold their own and Nick Rimando made three critical saves to earn his second shutout win of the year.
The key to last season's success for D.C. was the team's depth. This year, the team hadn't displayed the same number of players who can all make an impact, but in the two games this past week, every player made key contributions.
Stokes collected his first career assist by setting up the game-winning goal against the Fire that was scored by Boswell, the first goal of his MLS career. Dema Kovalenko, who had not been himself for most of this season after starting the year recovering from foot surgery, has just recently regained full match fitness and collected his first two assists of the season against Chicago. Quaranta scored one goal back in April, and since then had not been in sync with his teammates in the attacking third, but he had a very important role in the two games this week, collecting two assists and one game-winning goal.
The offense from D.C. United has also undergone a modification of sorts in terms of the formation. Lately, the attacking style of D.C. United has been much less structured in terms of the strikers and midfielders.
Basically, all of the attacking players have the freedom to move around the field however the game dictates. At times, midfielder Christian Gomez is the farthest player forward. Quaranta roams from wing to wing and even withdrawn centrally where a creative center midfielder usually plays. Moreno continues to move throughout the field, although lately he has been a front runner more often than a setup man, and he produced a magnificent goal weaving through three Revolution players on his way to scoring D.C.'s insurance goal Saturday night.
The new flowing style of United's attack has looked promising to say the least. D.C. now has 10 days before their next match, and Peter Nowak has given the team a few days off. It will certainly be a happy respite for the team has won back-to-back matches for the first time all season and became the first MLS team to beat the Revolution this season. Seven points from their last three games has helped United exit the cellar of the Eastern Conference standings. Also, the extra time off could enable some missing players to return to the lineup.
Bryan Namoff is still recovering from a hip flexor injury, Steve Guppy is working to come back from his Achilles tendonitis, Alecko Eskandarian suffered a concussion against New England and Freddy Adu is still away with the U.S. U-20 team at the World Championships.
United went from the verge of disaster to the height of optimism in a few short days, and after the brief layoff they could be very close to full strength as they look to continue their surge up the standings.
Tony Limarzi is a contributor to dcunited.com. He is also the voice of D.C. United soccer, calling all of the Black-and-Red's games live on WMET.