By THOMAS FLOYD
WASHINGTON — When Maicon Santos was sent to FC Dallas in a trade midway through last season, the Brazilian striker was largely considered the missing link for a championship-caliber squad. But after scoring two goals in 11 games, Santos was benched in the playoffs and let go during the offseason.
In D.C. United's 4-1 win over Dallas on Friday, Santos showed his former club the talent it let walk out the door, notching two goals and an assist as he paced a breakout performance by a fluid D.C. United attack that had looked anything but dynamic to start the season.
"I think he was a little bit extra revved up," United coach Ben Olsen said. "Playing a former team gets you a little bit more focused and more motivated."
If Santos was the star of the show, then rookie Nick DeLeon was a formidable second fiddle, recording a goal and an assist. Winger Danny Cruz added a goal to round out his workmanlike effort, while captain Dwayne De Rosario chipped in two helpers.
United improved to 1-2-1 with the triumph as Dallas dropped to 1-2-1. It was a welcome performance for a D.C. team that had been significantly retooled during the offseason and looked out of sorts while only scoring one goal in three games prior. And the outing was a testament to United's depth, as the three goal-scorers were all reserves opening day.
"It's a big confidence booster," De Rosario said. "We've got a good thing going right now. So we've just got to maintain it, keep our focus and keep working for each other."
Santos opened the scoring in the 28th minute. With the Dallas back line failing to close down space, the 27-year-old dribbled toward goal unopposed and unleashed a 25-yard howler that sailed into the back of the net.
"That's what I do — work and shoot from long distance," Santos said.
In a moment of controversy, Dallas drew even four minutes before the break. Daniel Hernandez played a seemingly harmless ball forward that slipped by United centerback Emiliano Dudar, allowing striker Blas Perez to break through and slot his shot inside the far post. United's calls for offside — which television replays showed were legitimate — went unanswered.
But it ultimately mattered not, as DeLeon gave United the lead back in the 60th minute in a moment of redemption for the winger. In the minutes prior, DeLeon missed two golden chances, taking too long to get a shot off on the first opportunity before ringing the crossbar with his second.
For DeLeon, it turned out, the third time was the charm, as he connected with a curling service from Santos at the far post, smashing his angled shot past goalkeeper Kevin Hartman.
It was the second career goal for DeLeon, who added his first assist six minutes later when he drove a perfectly placed ball across the box for Cruz to finish. And Santos put the icing on the cake for United in the 73rd minute, nodding home a pinpoint service from De Rosario.
When the flurry finally ended, United had three goals in 13 minutes.
"The chemistry was unbelievable tonight," Cruz said.
Dallas, whose frustration reached a climax in the 77th minute when Hernandez was sent off for a second yellow card, came out firing in the game's opening minutes, as Ricardo Villar and Perez both forced top-notch saves from United goalkeeper Joe Willis, who started in place of the injured Bill Hamid (ankle).
"This game could have been, without Joe Willis, down 2-0, and that game looks a whole lot different," Olsen said. "He's the most valuable player, hands down, in this game."
After those saves, United began to find a rhythm. In the 13th minute, De Rosario struck the crossbar with an ambitious 30-yard volley. From there, D.C. only improved.
"Our soccer is getting better," DeLeon said. "The team is starting to connect well, and we're starting to know each other's habits. Over time and game to game, we keep getting better."