FOXBORO - The one thing that the New England Revolution can count upon this season is not losing to D.C. United and playing 90 pain-staking minutes before taking a point or three.
The Revolution surrendered the go-ahead goal to D.C. United in the 11th minute on an own goal, then had the opportunity to tie the match in the 55th minute and missed.
But when the Revs needed three points, they got them - on the strength of midfielder Lee Nguyen converting his second penalty kick chance of the match, in the 83rd minute, that created a 2-1 victory Saturday night at Gillette Stadium before a season-best crowd of 19,187.
"We got the ball moving quicker, got it wide, good things happened," said midfielder Chris Tierney of New England extinguishing a one-goal, first-half deficit and almost seeing its MLS playoff chances being extinguished.
Never mind that D.C. United has the fewest wins (three), fewest goals scored (19), most goals allowed (47) and is in the midst of a seven-match (0-5-2) winless skein - arguably the worst team in MLS.
The Revolution never seem to have it easy with D.C. United, salvaging a point in a scoreless tie in the first meeting this season and winning by the mere margin of one goal in the second game of the three-match series.
New England (11-11-7) needed points, trailing both Chicago and Philadelphia by two points for the fifth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. And with five matches remaining in the eight-month long season, chances for postseason play for the first time in four seasons are running short.
The Revolution were winless in their last three (0-2-1) matches, having allowed eight goals as well - partly the reason why veteran Matt Reis returned between the posts in goal.
D.C. United, winless (0-12-3) on the road this season with merely five goals scored, was a perfect foil for the Revolution. But New England almost failed to respond to the must-win scenario.
"That's not exactly how you draw it up," said New England coach Jay Heaps of the win. "We didn't start well, we had to battle that back - it was a really great turnaround."
Revolution defender Scott Caldwell re-directed a cross off the left wing by D.C. United's Luis Silva with his right foot into the lower left corner of the New England net for the own goal.
Nguyen was taken down hard in the lower right corner of the penalty box by D.C. United's Dejan Jakovic, being awarded a penalty kick. However, D.C. United goalkeeper Bill Hamid guessed correctly, diving to his right, to deny Nguyen's shot to the lower left corner.
The second time, almost in the same spot and being taken to the ground by D.C. United's Lewis Neal, Nguyen pushed a shot to the right corner of the net, while once again Hamid guessed to dive right for the block - but incorrectly this time.
"We wanted to make sure that we won it," said Tierney. "It wasn't the prettiest game, but we recovered well."
New England finally got on the scoreboard in the 58th minute when Diego Fagundez scored his team-best 11th goal, taking a pass from Saer Sene on the right wing and funneling a shot to the far left corner of the D.C. United net.
"We're going one game at a time, every game is a must win - points are vital," added Heaps. "Once they (DCU) scored, they had control of the match - that allowed them to play at a slower tempo."
Nguyen nearly won it for New England with his shot off the crossbar in the 69th minute, then his ensuing rebound blast, that denied by Hamid.
New England generated nine first-half shots with Kelyn Rowe having a free kick in the 35th minute, a right-footed drive in the 36th minute and a 30-yard drive in the 43rd minute all miss their intended target.
The Revolution totaled 11 second-half corner kicks, D.C. United totaling just eight shots, two at Reis and one corner kick in the entire match.
"Penalty kicks are tough, those are not easy," added Heaps of Nguyen's miss-and-make. "We started to push guys higher, to release more - in the end, we had more pressure."