Photo by Jose L. Argueta/ISIphotos.com
By THOMAS FLOYD
WASHINGTON – In 65 minutes Saturday, D.C. United's Dwayne De Rosario once again showed why he is one of the most prolific attacking talents MLS has ever seen. And at 33 years old, playing for his third club this season, he could very well be better than ever.
De Rosario launched himself atop the Golden Boot standings and into the thick of the MVP discussion, recording the fastest hat trick in league history as United (9-8-11) rolled to a 4-1 win over reserve-heavy Real Salt Lake (15-8-6) at RFK Stadium.
"The thing with De Ro is that I am not even surprised anymore with some of the stuff he does," United coach Ben Olsen said. "I've seen it as a fan of his and I've also seen it being on the other side for 10 years. 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 as well and rode the wave."
The Canadian assisted Andy Najar's opening strike before scoring three goals of his own in a nine-minute span, giving United a shocking 4-0 advantage 31 minutes in. De Rosario's performance came three days after his missed penalty kick cost United a win against Chivas USA.
De Rosario, who gave way to Joseph Ngwenya in the second half, has 13 goals and 11 assists on the season, including 10 tallies and six helpers in his 13 games since joining United from New York in a June trade. The hat trick was his second for United.
"I felt like I was in a good spot tonight," De Rosario said. "We were aggressive early on and it paid off. Everyone worked hard to put the team in a good position, and I was able to finish some of those chances."
The three points were particularly crucial for United (9-8-11) in its quest for a playoff bid after the club surrendered a two-goal lead to Chivas on Wednesday, settling for a draw at home.
Olsen made three changes from that match, inserting left back Marc Burch, winger Austin da Luz and central midfielder Stephen King while shifting Daniel Woolard, Santino Quaranta and Charlie Davies to the bench.
Salt Lake, on the other hand, saw its five-game winning streak snapped as regulars Jamison Olave, Will Johnson, Luis Gil, Fabian Espindola and Alvaro Saborio were held out of the starting lineup amid a busy stretch of fixtures.
Coach Jason Kreis' side didn't get on the board until the 86th minute, when Saborio came off the bench to find a consolation goal.
"We just wanted to get a tie or a win in the second half and forget about it," Salt Lake captain Kyle Beckerman said. "So we did that and we ended on a positive."
Najar put United ahead when he latched onto De Rosario's tremendous diagonal ball to get behind the Salt Lake back line and rifle a shot past Nick Rimando in the 13th minute.
The De Rosario show began in earnest nine minutes later when Najar returned the favor, hitting an early service from the right flank that the forward nodded home. Five minutes later, De Rosario ran onto Josh Wolff's layoff at the top of the penalty area and curled a shot into the upper corner.
De Rosario bagged United's fourth goal when he sneaked a 30-yard free kick inside Rimando's near post. While it wasn't the most rapid-fire hat trick the league has seen — Los Angeles' Harut Karapetyan notched one in a five-minute span in 1998 — the 31st minute was the earliest in a match a player has ever gotten to three goals.
"De Ro had a special night," Wolff said. "I don't think I've seen anything like that in my 13 or 14 years. So you take your hat off to that performance."
One positive storyline that emerged from the contest for Salt Lake was the return of playmaker Javier Morales to the gameday roster for the first time since he broke his ankle in May.
With the game out of hand thanks to De Rosario's historic outing, however, Kreis opted not to use a subsitution on the Argentine.
"I felt like the game was lost and that there was probably nothing positive that could come out of playing [Morales]," Kreis said. "I felt like it was just too big of a risk. Also, frankly I kind of wanted his first minutes to be at home."