D.C. United did not win Saturday afternoon, but after answering a pair of deficits against the star-laden Los Angeles Galaxy, it sure felt like a triumph.
United trailed early and late but showed rare resilience in scratching out a 2-2 draw before 16,233 at RFK Stadium.
Kyle Porter, a second-half substitute, scored on an 84th-minute header — just three minutes after Michael Stephens had struck for the two-time defending MLS Cup champions.
“We’re still not winning games,” Coach Ben Olsen said. “It’s been a difficult year, but there are these times with real spirit with this crew.”
United (3-19-6) might have deserved better than a tie. Until Stephens’s goal, D.C. countered and combined effectively in the second half and remained calm in tight spots against a high-octane attack.
United enjoyed just its third multiple-goal performance of the regular season and, for only the second time, recovered from a deficit to gain a point.
The quality of the opponent added to the satisfaction: The Galaxy arsenal featured world-class forwards Landon Donovan and Robbie Keane, a tandem that earns 31 / 2 times more than the United’s entire starting lineup.
Donovan set up Keane in the seventh minute, but Chris Pontius took advantage of Omar Gonzalez’s error near halftime.
“I didn’t see people put their head down,” said Pontius, who made his first start since injuring a hamstring two months ago. “I saw people keep fighting.”
Although United is almost assured of finishing with the fewest points in the 19-team league, these late matches do serve a purpose: rehearsal for the U.S. Open Cup final Oct. 1 at Real Salt Lake. League victories remain elusive, but the overriding aim is to build rhythm and confidence before vying for a trophy.
“I’ve known the whole time we’ve got guys who can play; we just haven’t shown up,” captain Dwayne De Rosario said. “If we have the right mentality, we shouldn’t fear anyone.”
The Galaxy (13-10-5) did not break a sweat in taking the lead and appeared on its way to a leisurely victory. Donovan, the top scorer in U.S. national team history, set up Keane, the Irish World Cup veteran, with a back-heel pass in the box for a close-in finish and 13th goal of the year.
But Gonzalez’s defensive gaffe in the 39th minute altered the match’s trajectory. The U.S. national team starter from the University of Maryland chested the ball to himself but was too casual in gathering possession.
Pontius bore down and seized the ball, made a neat move around goalkeeper Jaime Penedo and slotted into an open net.
Donovan, just back from two World Cup qualifiers, departed at halftime with an ankle injury. United set the terms after the break but conceded Stephens’s bid into the lower right corner from the top of the box.
Porter answered. Toeing the offside line, he met Perry Kitchen’s pass over the top of the defense and directed a 13-yard header into the left corner.
“It’s tough to come back against a team like the Galaxy,” Porter said. “We are at the bottom of the table, but we can still play with the best.”
Notes: At halftime, D.C. career scoring leader Jaime Moreno was inducted into the club’s Hall of Tradition. A No. 99 banner was unveiled on the south wall alongside seven other former players. . . .
Galaxy defender A.J. DeLaGarza (Lackey High) departed in the 10th minute with a dislocated elbow.