On the same weekend a year ago, a young and rebuilding D.C. United team hosted the New York Red Bulls and got throttled in a match in which coach Ben Olsen said his team had been outclassed.
Chris Pontius, one of two United starters remaining from that game, helped show just how much the roles have been reversed this season with his first career hat trick in United's 4-1 rout of the Red Bulls before a rain-soaked 13,262 at RFK Stadium. The victory extended United's unbeaten streak to six games, its longest since 2009.
"I think we're a more mature team," Pontius said, comparing Sunday's game to the one United lost 4-0 a year ago. "We close out games better. We see plays out better, and we make a lot less stupid mistakes."
The longest tenured United player -- in just his fourth season -- after a host of offseason roster changes, Pontius made his second straight start after coming off the bench in United's previous four games. He wrestled control of the match in the eighth minute.
Stripping New York forward Thierry Henry at the edge of the midfield circle, Pontius turned and ran toward goal, holding off Red Bulls defender Markus Holgersson as he unleashed a 25-yard blast that dipped over goalkeeper Ryan Meara.
"Chris gives a little shimmy and bangs one," Olsen said. "I thought he had a good night. He still doesn't know to play forward though. That's the scary thing. He's still new at the position, and some of his movements can get a lot better. But three goals isn't too bad."
Pontius doubled up in the 32nd minutes thanks to Maicon Santos, who displayed his confidence by splitting a pair of New York defenders to get into the box from the left side. He held off a third to cross from the end line, and Meara got a touch, as did defender Connor Lade, but the ball came right to Pontius, who slammed it home from close range.
New York's mess of a defense, without suspended Rafael Marquez and injured Wilman Conde, teed up a third goal for United (3-2-3) two minutes later, with Victor Palsson pushing the ball backward into the Red Bulls' box. Dwayne De Rosario shoved aside Lade and centered the ball to Nick DeLeon, whose shot deflected off Holgersson and past Meara.
Pontius capped off his night when he picked up a loose ball in the New York midfield. A touch left Holgersson flailing, and Pontius moved the ball to his left foot for the finish past a sliding Meara in the 69th minute.
Only Thierry Henry's superb free kick in the 72nd minute, from which he walked away from without a hint of celebration, ensured United wouldn't match the biggest margin of victory in the series with the Red Bulls (3-3-1).
"You're going to have games like this when you're a playing a team that's a little down, and you've got to step on them and take advantage of it," Olsen said. "I thought we did a very good job from start to finish of putting them under a lot of pressure and not letting them get comfortable."