Red Bulls top D.C. despite Christian Benteke's hat trick

Sean Nealis headed home his first goal of the season 13 minutes into the second half to give his team the lead, and the visiting New York Red Bulls overcame the first MLS hat trick from D.C. United's Christian Benteke in a wild 5-3 victory on Saturday night.

Omir Fernandez scored his team-leading fifth and sixth goals of the season early for the Red Bulls, and Cameron Harper leveled the match at 3-3 just before halftime.

John Tolkin, after assisting Nealis, scored his second goal of the season to cap the victory. Tolkin's first goal came in a 1-0 home win against D.C. just more than a month ago.

The Red Bulls' highest-scoring performance home or away this season came after they scored just seven times in 14 previous league away fixtures. And it moved New York (8-12-10, 34 points) within two points of D.C. (9-13-9, 36 points), which entered the night in possession of the ninth and final Eastern Conference playoff spot.

Benteke scored his team-leading 11th, 12th and 13th goals for D.C., which went a fourth consecutive match without a victory while trying to boost its playoff chances.

The Black-and-Red also finished a stretch of five home matches out of six with just six points total taken.

Down 3-2 after Benteke completed his hat trick in the second minute of first-half stoppage time, the Red Bulls climbed ahead on a pair of goals from corner kicks.

Harper leveled it at 3-3 in the fifth minute of first-half stoppage time with his feet, popping up at the back post to side-foot a first-time finish after Frankie Amaya's service deflected off attacker Tom Barlow.

Then in the 58th minute, Nealis simply escaped his marker to head in Tolkin's in-swinging service past helpless D.C. goalkeeper Alex Bono.

Benteke scored his hat trick in the space of 26 minutes.

On his first, he guided in a near-post header on a corner kick after a clever initial flick-on from Gabriel Pirani in the 21st minute.

The second was a messy goalmouth scramble that ended with the former Belgium international stabbing home a finish from close range in the 36th minute.

And the third was a penalty he earned himself on a powerful run into the left side of the penalty area that was halted by Andres Reyes' illegal lunge. Benteke found the bottom left corner on the subsequent spot kick.

--Field Level Media