D.C. United 4, Chicago Fire 2

The heated confrontation between D.C. United defenders Brandon McDonald and Chris Korb was an enduring image from the end of Sunday’s emotional and chaotic 1-1 draw with Philadelphia.

On Wednesday, McDonald and Korb connected again. This time, however, it was to celebrate McDonald’s magnificent header goal off Korb’s cross. It was part of a decisive 4-2 victory over Chicago that snuffed out D.C.’s disappointment from three days earlier and reestablished the team’s drive toward the playoffs.

“After I scored he came over and said, ‘Maybe we should get into it every day after the game,’” McDonald said. “It could be something.”

The feeling was mutual throughout a D.C. United lineup despite continued adjustments for both injuries and the addition of two red card suspensions. Chicago (12-8-5, 41 points) had won three in a row, hadn’t given up more than two goals in a game all season and hadn’t lost to D.C. since 2009, but United (12-8-4, 40 points) had little trouble extending its unbeaten streak at RFK Stadium to 12 matches.

Four different D.C. United players scored, including two with their first United goals (Lionard Pajoy and Long Tan), and four different players picked up assists. But most importantly, rather than getting caught up in the chaotic final minutes of the Philadelphia match, United played the same kind of focused, inspired soccer that had preceeded the meltdown against the Union.

Marcelo Saragosa, making just his fourth start of the year, set the tone winning loose balls in the midfield alongside Perry Kitchen. Andy Najar, making a rare start at right back, was utterly dominant and wizardly with the ball at his feet.

Chris Pontius set up the game’s first goal when he scuffed a left footer in the 19th minute, but D.C. taking the lead was well deserved.  Chicago goalkeeper Sean Johnson allowed Pontius’ shot to roll across the goal mouth and Dwayne De Rosario, lurking at the back post, redirected it home for his 99th career regular season goal, sixth og the year and first since May 19.

“It’s a long season, and this is the crunch time, where every team is picking up a gear,” De Rosario said. “We have to do the same, and especially me.”

D.C. continued to dictate the action but fell asleep just before halftime. In the 45th minute, Fire midfielder Daniel Paladini started and finished off a nifty passing sequence with Sherjill MacDonald and Marco Pappa that picked apart the United defense.

The goal sparked United back to life and drew an immediate response from Najar, who bolted downfield, lost the ball momentarily but recovered it right away and curled a cross to Pajoy. The Colombian, who moments before was unable to turn himself around in the box with only Johnson to beat, this time was decisive as he headed the ball past the Fire keeper from close range and restored the lead heading into the locker room.

Korb and McDonald combined to pad the lead just minutes after teams returned to the field, McDonald meeting Korb’s long ball with a deft header that looped up then down just inside the upper left corner in the 51st minute.

“I myself was even surprised at how well the team played,” Najar said.

Chicago cut the deficit to 3-2 when an unmarked Gonzalo Segares headed in Pavel Pardo’s free kick in the 75th minute, and Bill Hamid made his best save of the night for D.C. United in the 85th minute, crucially pushing aside a drive from Chris Rolfe.

But while Johnson walked away with eight saves to Hamid’s three, he was fooled by Tan’s knuckling left footed shot in the 89th minute – created by De Rosario’s 11th assist – allowing it to slip through his grasp and trickle over the line.

“I think as a whole we were kind of in a little rough patch there for a bit,” Kitchen said, “and I think we’re making our way out of it. We need to if we want to make the playoffs.”