United 3, Crew 1

D.C. United figured it would break out of its scoring doldrums one of these days, but nobody could've predicted the manner in which the occasion unfolded last night.

In the finest half of this sluggish season, United scored three goals before intermission -- two on sensational strikes by Alecko Eskandarian -- and ran away from the Columbus Crew, 3-1, before 17,176 at RFK Stadium.

"It was contagious from the [opening] whistle," midfielder Ben Olsen said. "People just stepped up and played like we had a chip on our shoulder. . . . We keep on expecting to score goals -- we've played good halves and haven't scored. But it always helps when a guy like Alecko scores two great goals. We needed a hero. We haven't had any guy consistently step up and be that guy out there that's going to take it on his shoulders."

United (4-5-4) had scored only two goals in its previous four matches (one of which was an own goal) and carried a 265-minute scoreless streak into this game. But Jaime Moreno redirected Ronald Cerritos's cross in the sixth minute and Eskandarian, who had been sidelined for three weeks with hamstring problems, scored on long-range shots in the 33rd and 45th minutes to put the game out of reach before halftime and end a seven-game unbeaten streak by the Crew (4-4-3).

It was United's first multi-goal game since May 19 and its highest scoring outburst of the year. Rookie goalkeeper Troy Perkins, who made a remarkable save prior to Eskandarian's goals to preserve a 1-0 lead, was on the brink of his third shutout in five starts when Manny Lagos scored in the 90th minute.

"I think it was the best half of the whole season," Coach Peter Nowak said. "It wasn't like in the previous games when we had one good half and then we just give away everything. The first half and the second half were pretty good. I'm really proud of this group."

Nowak tried his fourth frontline combination in the last five matches, pairing Eskandarian and Cerritos. Fifteen-year-old Freddy Adu served as a reserve for the second consecutive game and Jaime Moreno dropped into midfield -- although with Moreno's scoring history and playmaking qualities, it was as if United was playing with three forwards.

United buzzed around the Columbus area from the very start, Eskandarian forcing a falling save by Jon Busch 12 seconds into the match and Dema Kovalenko striking the left post in the third minute (he also hit the left post early in the second half).

Three minutes later, the pressure paid off. Brian Carroll took possession centrally and pushed the ball out to the left to the free-running Cerritos, who carried close to the end line before delivering a low cross that Moreno easily tucked under Busch to snap United's scoreless streak at 271 minutes. It was Carroll's first career assist, and Moreno's third goal of the year and first in five weeks.

United continued to dominate possession, leaving Perkins pleasantly bored. But its intensity began to fade midway through the half, allowing the Crew to regroup and rediscover its attacking form.

Columbus had two golden chances to tie it, but Perkins made just enough of a deflection with his hip on Jeff Cunningham's shot off a scramble deep in the box that the ball skipped off the top of the crossbar. On the ensuing corner kick, Perkins reached back at the last instant and made a remarkable slap save on Lagos's crisp header.

But United's attack found its rhythm again in the 33rd minute with some wonderful one-touch passing -- Eskandarian to Kovalenko to Moreno, back to Eskandarian for a high shot from the top corner of the box to the far side-netting. Busch barely moved, having been left without any chance of preventing Eskandarian's first goal since the season opener.

"My eyes kind of lit up when it bounced to me and it went exactly where I wanted it to go," he said.

Eskandarian wasn't done. As injury time was about to commence, the former University of Virginia all-American lashed a 22-yard free kick over the defensive wall and into the upper right corner, again leaving Busch with almost no hope of stopping it.

On the sideline, Nowak jumped around like a wild man, swinging his arms in delight.

"It's been a tough digression since the season opener with playing time and the injury," said Eskandarian, who overcame an illness on Friday to play last night. "I felt like I was playing well at the beginning of the season and for some reason my playing time was going down, but I knew I just had to be patient and wait for my opportunity."

D.C. United forward Alecko Eskandarian shows flashes of brilliance, scoring on two long shots.