CHESTER, Pa. — Through the first half of D.C. United's 2012 campaign, one formula has largely sparked the club's surge up the standings: Dwayne De Rosario does the passing, Chris Pontius does the scoring.
In the MLS All-Stars' 3-2 win over Chelsea FC on Wednesday, the combination collaborated on its most memorable sequence yet.
Much about the play was abnormal. The fans singing in support from the Delaware River end of PPL Park were that of a hated rival. The opponent was an elite squad that in May won the UEFA Champions League. And the sequence kicked off with a world-class long ball from English icon David Beckham of the Los Angeles Galaxy.
But to the D.C. faithful watching, it was all so familiar. De Rosario, the league leader in assists with 10, picked the perfect pass. Pontius, United's top scorer with nine goals, buried his one-time shot, beating Ross Turnbull low to the near post.
"It was nice to see those two connect," said All-Star coach Ben Olsen of United. "I actually jumped off the bench — I was a little ashamed of myself."
Pontius' 73rd-minute strike turned the tide of the match, drawing the MLS side level in an event that had seen the All-Stars fall to a European opponent three consecutive years, including blowout losses to Manchester United each of the past two seasons.
Eighteen minutes later, in second-half stoppage time, Pontius added an assist when he helped set up Eddie Johnson's dramatic winner, a deflected strike that sent PPL Park, home of the Philadelphia Union, into a frenzy.
Through mid-April, Pontius on the bench for United was a regular sight as he struggled to shake the rust following a broken leg in September. Now, he's the All-Star Game Most Valuable Player.
"I didn't think I would be here, to be honest," Pontius said. "It's been a long road. I had a rough start to the season, just personally. I was able to find a groove, and Benny trusted me and stuck with me through most of it. To be able to get that goal against a team like Chelsea is very special."
Added De Rosario: "The way it worked out was sweet. I'm happy for the kid."
While Pontius came on as a halftime substitute for Galaxy midfielder Landon Donovan, providing the All-Stars with instant energy cutting in from the flank, De Rosario facilitated from central midfield and up top as he logged the full 90 minutes.
As captain, he had the honor of lifting the trophy, six years after his goal led the MLS team to a 1-0 win over Chelsea in the Blues' first All-Star Game venture.
"It's not often you get a chance to play the Champions League champions," De Rosario said. "It's an opportunity to play against world-class players, and I think we had a great performance. It was a great, entertaining game for the fans."
Entering the All-Star break, United (10-7-3) dropped two in a row via shutout — their first losing streak since the season's opening two contests in March. After seeing Pontius and De Rosario drive the All-Stars to victory, Olsen said he's hoping they carry the momentum back to D.C.
But before United can regain their attacking rhythm in league play, another high-profile European test awaits: The club Saturday will welcome Paris Saint-Germain and newly signed Swedish star Zlatan Ibrahimovic to RFK Stadium on Saturday for a friendly.
"It's not an easy week of playing," Pontius said. "It's not a walk in the park by any means."
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