United midfielder Andy Najar, who scored in the 13th minute off of an assist from Dwayne Rosario, controls the ball against Real Salt Lake. Rosario scored three goals in the opening 31 minutes of United’s 4-1 win, the fastest MLS hat trick ever. (Toni L. Sandys/The Washington Post)

Of course it went into the net. Everything else Dwayne De Rosario had touched in the first half-hour of D.C. United’s match against Real Salt Lake on Saturday had turned into gold, so despite the distance and angle, one would’ve been foolish to doubt the destination of the Canadian veteran’s free kick.

On an evening like few others in United and MLS history, De Rosario swerved a 30-yard shot between goalkeeper Nick Rimando’s right hand and the near post. In 31 minutes, the midseason acquisition had accumulated three goals and an assist, a picture-perfect performance that propelled United to a 4-1 victory over the league’s hottest team before 16,367 at RFK Stadium.

De Rosario’s hat trick was the fastest from the start of a match since the league launched in 1996. He is the first United player to record two hat tricks in a season.

“I’m not even really surprised anymore with some of the stuff he does,” Coach Ben Olsen said. “This is what he does and this is why we wanted him. He’s just been exceptional and the guys have jumped on his back and rode the wave today.”

Three-goal exhibitions occur several times around the league each season — De Rosario did it Aug. 6 and teammate Charlie Davies followed suit five weeks later — but the quality of De Rosario’s strikes, plus a sterling assist, turned a special performance into a memorable one.

After aiding Andy Najar’s early goal, De Rosario scored in the 22nd, 27th and 31st minutes to increase his season total to an MLS-best 13. Since being acquired from New York for defensive midfielder Dax McCarty, he has 10 goals and six assists in 13 matches.

“I don’t think I’ve seen anything like that in my 13 or 14 years,” captain Josh Wolff said. “Those three strikes were fantastic. He finished them off brilliantly.”

The stirring display rejuvenated United’s playoff chances and helped erase the memory of Wednesday’s disappointing draw against Chivas USA. It moved United (9-8-11, 38 points) within four points of first-place Houston (10-9-12, 42) in the Eastern Conference’s crowded standings before the club goes to Philadelphia (9-7-13, 40) on Thursday and Columbus (11-11-8, 41) next Sunday.

Alvaro Saborio scored in the 86th minute for Real Salt Lake (15-8-6, 51 points), which arrived in Washington with a five-game winning streak, the longest in MLS this season. With a congested schedule, Real rested six regulars.

De Rosario’s first contribution was an assist in the 13th minute, but the delivery was of such high quality, he deserved more than secondary recognition. From midfield, he threaded a through ball past five defenders to Najar humming down the right side. A low effort resulted in his fourth goal of the year.

In the 22nd minute, Najar served an exquisite high cross from near the right sideline to De Rosario, who stung a 10-yard, leaping header into the center of the target.

Five minutes passed before he struck again, tagging a 25-yard one-timer into the upper right corner on a touch from Josh Wolff. De Rosario, 33, needed just four minutes to complete the hat trick, bending a 30-yard free kick beyond Rimando’s extended reach and into the near side.

De Rosario said he was just happy to atone for missing a penalty kick in the waning moments Wednesday. Speaking on his move to United from the Red Bulls, he said: “It’s working out for now. We’re still not in the playoffs. Until we make the playoffs, then I can say it’s working out. Personal goals only go so far. My goal is to make the playoffs and win that championship here.”

With the outcome decided, De Rosario departed in the 65th minute to a rousing ovation and chants of “De-Ro! De-Ro!”

“The great thing about Dwayne is that he’ll forget about this and move on and try to do it again,” Olsen said. “It’s a great performance from him. I’m sure even for him it’s a pretty memorable game.”

United notes: The club seems to have made progress in efforts for a new stadium. “I hope we can announce soon, but I can’t give a commitment on when I can announce,” owner Will Chang said. Buzzard Point in Southwest Washington, near Nationals Park, is believed to be the top candidate.