United 4, MetroStars 1

During its 4-1 victory over the New York/New Jersey MetroStars on Saturday night, D.C. United discovered a long-lost goal scorer (Ben Olsen) and a midfielder-turned-cheerleader (Christian Gomez).

While Olsen scored his first two goals in more than a year during a devastating second half, the suspended Gomez led the celebration by pounding on a giant drum while standing in the raucous United supporters section behind the east goal at Giants Stadium.

By the end of the cool evening, United (15-9-5) had won its third straight to clinch an MLS playoff berth and move within five points of first-place New England in the Eastern Conference; Freddy Adu had successfully orchestrated the attack in all-star Gomez's absence; and Gomez, who had driven here with his family unbeknownst to his teammates, was showing off a blister from his continuous drumming.

"I saw him up there, I couldn't stop laughing!" Adu said. "I couldn't believe he did that."

Gomez's antics epitomized the fun-filled second half for United, which handed the MetroStars (10-9-10) their first home loss in five months and further jeopardized their playoff hopes.

United actually trailed at halftime on Mike Magee's goal in the 19th minute, but that turned out to be the MetroStars' only shot on goal. United pulled even just after the break on Jeff Agoos's own goal, then went ahead on Olsen's header in the 55th minute. Olsen added another in the 86th minute and Jaime Moreno closed it out with an elegant solo run a moment later before an announced crowd of 27,670.

"It always feels good to score the first one -- even though it took me nine months to get it," said Olsen, who was making his 20th appearance of the year. "We just screwed up on the goal we gave up. Besides that, it was good soccer. We kept playing well and today, finally, we buried a team. That's what we have been missing. Once we had the lead, the question was, could we get that third goal, could we get that fourth goal? We did it."

United's victory here and New England's loss to West-leading San Jose restored D.C.'s hopes of catching the Revolution. United has a game in hand -- at woeful Real Salt Lake on Wednesday -- before closing the regular season at home against the MetroStars and last-place Columbus.

Just like last year, when it won its fourth MLS Cup, United is beginning to click late in the regular season. Magee's early goal didn't faze the players, and before long, their dominance of possession translated into a one-sided scoreline.

The tying goal came about 90 seconds into the second half when MetroStars defender Agoos and goalkeeper Tony Meola miscommunicated on Dema Kovalenko's cross, resulting in Agoos steering the ball past his fallen teammate in the six-yard box.

United seized the momentum and continued to pressure the shaken MetroStars. The second goal was set up by substitute Jamil Walker, who bent a high cross toward the far post. Olsen made his run unmarked and drove a header into the left corner. For Olsen, a defensive midfielder who was a feared attacker early in his career, it was his first goal since September 2004.

Suddenly trailing, the MetroStars played with greater urgency, but United maintained its composure and continued to mount a formidable attack.

The MetroStars thought they had tied it in the 80th minute, but Sergio Galvan Rey's apparent goal was disallowed by a clear offside violation. Olsen then clinched it after collecting Moreno's diagonal pass, and Moreno's team-best 14th goal of the year turned it into a rout.

Coach Peter Nowak "said at halftime that we're going to win this game by a lot of goals," Adu said. "Everybody was like, 'There you go, let's just go out there and play.' "

All the while, Gomez, serving a one-game penalty for accumulating yellow cards, was banging the drum amid the United fans.

"As long as they keep winning 4-1," Gomez said, "I'll stay in the crowd."

United Note: New Argentine forward Lucio Filomeno, who made the trip here and is expected to make his debut next weekend, has been given uniform No. 7, previously worn by Steve Guppy.

United's Freddy Adu cuts between Mark Lisi, right, and Michael Bradley. D.C.'s win hurt the MetroStars' playoff hopes.