United 4, Fire 3
The goals were on their way, D.C. United Coach Peter Nowak had promised. Any game now, he insisted, United would end weeks of attacking futility and once again become one of MLS's most feared teams.
That long-awaited moment arrived last night in a furious second half at RFK Stadium.
United overcame a two-goal deficit in the first half and a one-goal margin after halftime to overtake the Chicago Fire, 4-3, in a wild Eastern Conference encounter in front of 14,198.
"Amazing," Nowak said. "After being [down] 2-0, they never stopped believing in what we were doing and what kind of soccer we presented and what kind of team we are."
The winning goal came in the 86th minute from the unlikeliest of sources -- reserve defender David Stokes crossing to rookie defender Bobby Boswell for a four-yard shot past goalkeeper Zach Thornton.
Jaime Moreno had scored late in the first half and Christian Gomez struck twice after intermission for United (4-4-4), which ended a three-game winless streak with its largest output of the season. Chicago (7-6-1) had won four of its previous five and appeared in control after goals by Chris Rolfe and Nate Jaqua eight minutes apart.
United's first goal, a penalty kick by Moreno just before halftime, ended a 324-minute scoreless streak that included three consecutive shutouts. Gomez scored his first goal early in the second half, set up perfectly by Santino Quaranta, but Gonzalo Segares restored Chicago's lead 15 minutes later.
However, Gomez put away another cross, this one delivered by Dema Kovalenko, for his fifth goal of the year. With time fading, Chicago's Tony Sanneh failed to clear Stokes's high cross, allowing Boswell at the far post to score his first career goal.
"Actually I was thinking maybe I should get back when I saw Stokesy going down the line," said Boswell, an undrafted center back who has played every minute this season. "But when Tony misplayed it, it just fell right to my feet. I just took one touch and shot it."
Nowak sent out the same starting lineup as Sunday, leaving slumping Alecko Eskandarian on the bench. United generated an attack right away, but it was just more of the same shooting deficiencies that had been paralyzing the defending champion.
There were misplaced shots, glaring indecisiveness and a meek effort cleared out of the six-yard box -- just like Sunday, when United's dominance against the MetroStars didn't translate into any goals.
The failures were costly because, in the 30th minute, the Fire turned nothing into something. Thornton's booming kick was flicked by Jaqua toward the penalty area. Rolfe, in pursuit, muscled his way past John Wilson and beat Brandon Prideaux to the ball for a quick shot past goalkeeper Nick Rimando.
Eight minutes later, the 6-foot-3 Jaqua slid in front of Prideaux as Justin Mapp crossed from the right side and delivered a powerful six-yard header for his fifth goal in the last three games.
United countered when Quaranta was spilled in the box. Moreno slotted the penalty kick for the team's first goal since late in a 3-2 victory over Kansas City on May 21.
"I knew we were going to be all right," Quaranta said. "Before the game, for some reason, it just felt like things were going to turn for us -- and it did. . . . We just had to take control and get one goal back before the half. Once we got the goal, I knew we were going to win this game. We were fired up and we were going to fight until the end."
Eskandarian entered at halftime and the attack-oriented change paid off immediately. On a near-post run, Eskandarian let Quaranta's cross pass through to the hard-charging Gomez, who smashed it into the left corner from seven yards.
Chicago went back ahead, though, on Segares's first career goal. Rolfe beat Stokes to the end line and passed back to Segares, a rookie defender from Virginia Commonwealth who one-timed a 12-yarder to the far corner. United was finding it difficult to solve Chicago's defense, but in the 73rd minute, Kovalenko avoided an offside call and crossed to Gomez to tie it again. It was then up to Stokes and Boswell to provide the dramatic finish.
* RAPIDS 1, GALAXY 0: Colorado, playing with nine men for nearly half the match, held on to beat visiting Los Angeles. Jeff Cunningham scored on a penalty kick in the ninth minute, and the Rapids withstood red cards to Pablo Mastroeni and Guy Melamed.