Chelsea 2, United 1

D.C. United couldn't have drafted a better scenario last night in perhaps the most-anticipated match of its nine-year history. A half-hour into the friendly against English champion Chelsea, with a rowdy crowd and a curious national television audience watching, rookie defender Bobby Boswell nodded Christian Gomez's corner kick into the net to provide United with an implausible lead.

United had no business being ahead of a club with a hundred years of tradition and a bankroll almost a hundred times larger than theirs. But here it was, the players joining Boswell in celebration behind the net as the late-arriving supporters roared in appreciation.

It was fun while it lasted.

Chelsea restored order four minutes later, then went ahead early in the second half to subdue a spirited United squad, 2-1, before 31,473 at FedEx Field.

"My players, I'm sure, are going to remember this night for a long time," United Coach Peter Nowak said. "This is what we're all about. We're never going to step back. . . . I'm proud of these guys because they make me happy tonight."

Irish winger Damien Duff scored the equalizer with a thunderous volley and Argentine forward Hernan Crespo scored in the open field in the 56th minute to give Chelsea its second consecutive victory on a three-match preseason tour.

If Chelsea thought this would be a leisurely stroll through Washington, it discovered right away that United would put up a fight.

"I sat on the bench, and two minutes later, I already knew what was going to happen," Coach Jose Mourinho said. "So it didn't surprise me. They are a well-organized team. . . . I'm not very happy with some of [Chelsea's] players. The team in the first half was really bad."

United nearly went ahead after just 11 minutes, but goalkeeper Petr Cech stopped Jaime Moreno's drive with his right foot and Josh Gros couldn't convert two opportunities.

Then in the 31st minute, United struck. Gros's bid was deflected over the end line for a corner kick, which Gomez delivered to the six-yard box. Boswell met it in stride and nodded the ball past Cech to give United a startling lead.

"It felt good to get on top early," Boswell said. "It's unfortunate we gave them one right back. Going into the second half, I liked our chances, but they put their chances away and we weren't able to get back in it."

Chelsea certainly wasn't rattled by the goal, but it did begin to play with a touch more urgency upon the restart. It took four minutes for the Blues to get even. Shaun Wright-Phillips crossed from the right to the far post, where, from eight yards, Duff measured it precisely and laced a left-footed volley to the far corner.

"This is what the great teams do," Nowak said. "They're hanging in there, hanging in there, and when you let them have the chance, they're going to score."

As expected in a friendly, Chelsea turned over its lineup at the start of the second half, replacing all but one player. United countered with just two changes, but one was the most anticipated of the evening: teenager Freddy Adu.

The half began at a slower pace and neither side was able to create much of anything. Adu cracked an unthreatening shot from 30 yards as the crowd fidgeted. In the 56th minute, however, the Blues brought the match -- and the crowd -- back to life.

Dutch midfielder Arjen Robben triggered the counterattack, running free on the left before finding Crespo alone behind United's defense. As reserve keeper Troy Perkins charged, Crespo calmly pushed the ball into a vacant net for a 2-1 lead.

Adu's clever footwork energized the attack and gave Lassana Diarra fits, but United was unable to seriously test back-up goalie Carlo Cudicini, ending a memorable night for the D.C. club and its young league.

"We went at them and we definitely surprised them," D.C. starting goalie Nick Rimando said. "Good teams come back and get going and they're definitely one of the best teams in the world. They knew what to do when they went down."

United Notes: D.C. will not play again until Wednesday, when it faces the minor league Richmond Kickers in the U.S. Open Cup round of 16 at University of Richmond Stadium. Its next league match is Aug. 6 at Chicago. . . . United suffered its first loss in exhibitions against English clubs after three wins and three ties. . . . Chelsea will conclude its tour Sunday against AC Milan at Giants Stadium. . . . Actor-comedian Drew Carey, who has become a big U.S. soccer fan and part-time sports photographer, was on the sideline shooting pictures.

Chelsea's Glen Johnson, left, congratulates teammate Damien Duff as United defender Brandon Prideaux looks on. Duff's first-half goal tied the exhibition match at 1.Midfielder Shaun Wright-Phillips, recently acquired by Chelsea, works the ball past United defender John Wilson, right.