For nearly three years, D.C. United's inability to win back-to-back matches has been a fitting symbol for the club's maddening inconsistency, as well as a sore subject for players, coaches and fans alike.
United on Saturday made that troubling streak a thing of the past.
Behind two goals from Maicon Santos, a drought-breaking strike from Dwayne De Rosario and two assists from stay-at-home left back Daniel Woolard, United (4-2-3) claimed a 3-2 win over the Houston Dynamo (2-2-2) at a rain-soaked RFK Stadium.
The triumph gave the home side its first winning streak since June 2009 and extended its unbeaten stretch to seven matches.
"There's something to this team," coach Ben Olsen said. "We had a couple plays where we fouled up and they capitalized, and we had guys bail them out. And that's a big part of being a team."
United successfully negated a two-goal effort from second-year Houston forward Will Bruin, who has seen five of his nine career tallies come against Olsen's squad. Although United surrendered second-half leads on a defensive lapse and a goalkeeping error, the team twice came back to reclaim the advantage.
"It was back and forth," goalkeeper Joe Willis said. "Luckily, we have a team full of guys who have a lot of fight in them, and it really showed."
United seized the lead for good in the 70th minute. Using some nifty footwork, De Rosario maintained possession in the attacking third before spraying a pass out wide to Woolard, who promptly served a pinpoint ball into the box.
Santos rose to the occasion, heading a shot past goalkeeper Tally Hall for his team-leading sixth goal of the campaign.
"That was a beautiful cross to get from Woolard," said Santos, a journeyman striker who seems to have found the right home in the nation's capital.
For the first time this year, Olsen deployed the same starting lineup he used the previous match, choosing not to disturb the chemistry formed during a 4-1 thrashing of the New York Red Bulls last weekend.
United went on top in the 11th minute when Houston center back Geoff Cameron — one of the league's finest defenders — misjudged an early long ball from Brandon McDonald, allowing Chris Pontius to latch onto the pass. The forward then rounded Hall before hitting a cross to Santos, who nodded his shot past defender Bobby Boswell.
"I saw Maicon had a little distance between him and his defender," Pontius said. "I was just trying to put it on his head."
D.C. suffered a blow in the 44th minute when center back Emiliano Dudar pulled up lame, aggravating a hamstring injury that sidelined him for two games earlier this month. Olsen shifted Perry Kitchen from holding midfield to the back line while inserting Marcelo Sargosa to play behind De Rosario.
Houston would punish United's revamped defense five minutes after halftime. Left back Jermaine Taylor beat Danny Cruz, a former Dynamo midfielder, before knocking a cross that a poorly marked Bruin tapped in from close range.
The score was even all of four minutes. De Rosario, after finding net a league-leading 16 times last season, notched his first goal of 2012, serving a right-footed ball from the left flank that skimmed just over Pontius' head before glancing in off the far post.
The Dynamo, however, again pulled level in the 59th minute. Willis, who seized the starting job from Bill Hamid with a string of stellar early-season performances, suffered a rare mishap in goal, allowing a long-range shot from Bruin to slip through his hands and trickle in.
But Santos grabbed the winner 11 minutes later. While De Rosario nearly capped the effort with a spectacular strike, putting on a dribbling display from midfield to goal that ended with his point-blank bid being denied by Hall, it was a goal United ultimately didn't need.
Houston, it turned out, finally ran out of answers, and consecutive wins belonged to D.C. once more.
"You guys can't talk about back-to-back wins anymore because we finally got it," Cruz told reporters with a laugh. "So maybe four years down the road, hopefully we're not dealing with it [again]."
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