D.C., Metros finish bitter clash
LEAGUE HEAD-TO-HEAD: MET 14 wins, 55 gls; DC 20 wins, 72 gls; 2 ties
2004 HEAD-TO-HEAD: DC 3 wins, 12 gls; MET 1 win, 7 gls; 0 ties
MLS CUP PLAYOFFS: MET 1 win, 3 gls; DC 3 wins, 7 gls
REFEREE: Kevin Stott.
SAR (bench): Chris Strickland; JAR (opposite): Nate Clement;
4th: Erich Simmons
INJURY REPORT: METROSTARS - OUT: DF Tenywa Bonseu (L Achilles tendon tear), F Mike Magee (concussion); DOUBTFUL: MD Michael Bradley (R foot stress fracture)... D.C. UNITED - OUT: FW Thiago Martins (L knee surgery)
INTERNATIONAL ABSENCES: none
YELLOW PERIL: DC: Joshua Gros (5 CP); Dema Kovalenko (5 CP); Ryan Nelsen (5 CP) ... MET: Jonny Walker (4 CP)
After charges by the MetroStars that United stepped up their physical play in the first leg at Giants Stadium, the Black-and-Red did little to deny it. Said coach Peter Nowak: "This is a man's game. Not a chess game," while midfielder Josh Gros said, "I thought it was fair. I didn't think there was anything wrong with how we played. I thought it was a good game plan, well-executed." Still, Gros echoed his coach's comments in saying he expected both sides to battle from the start in Saturday's second leg. "I think (they) should be," he says. "It's a man's game." ... United earned home-field advantage in the second leg through a 3-2 victory against the MetroStars on the season's final day, then made it all but moot with the away victory in the first leg. Still, said D.C. midfielder Ben Olsen: "A win in the first leg away is big in any type of competition but the job's not done. We have to go home and protect our house, and do the job at home." ... 15-year-old Freddy Adu did not play in the first leg, after seeing action in each of United's 30 league matches. Adu suffered a fall on his shoulder and back in the season finale against the MetroStars, and while Nowak said the injury did not specifically keep him from the game, it was a concern. "For a few days he did not feel that good. Putting him into a game when it's very competitive, if something bad is going to happen, every player is very important for us. He didn't play, but he knows he's part of this team and I'm looking forward to getting him minutes the next couple of games," Nowak said. ... Skipper Ryan Nelsen knew if his side kept things tight, there was a chance for the away victory. "After battling through the first 50 to 60 minutes where we played scrap more than soccer and that's when it's going to open up," he said. "Alecko's goal was just huge." ... In the all-time history of the series, the MetroStars have defeated United by two goals or more at RFK Stadium just once -- a 3-1 win on Sept. 28, 1997. United has lost just five of 20 league and MLS Cup matches against the MetroStars at home.
All of the discussion after the first leg for the MetroStars has centered on Earnie Stewart's goal midway through the second half, which had a hint of offside. "The most important thing is that we lost our heads a little bit," goalkeeper Jonny Walker said. "Everybody got a little overheated and forgot that sometimes in these games when you're losing 1-0 and the result isn't going your way ... you can't lose your head and let the other team get another." ... Video replays of the goal have been inconclusive either way, but assistant referee Chris Strickland said afterward he was 100 percent confident of his call. "This is a very competent, qualified assistant referee who may have made a terrific decision," MLS official Joe Machnik said. "If a piece of video shows that he is wrong, U.S. Soccer and MLS will be the first to admit there was a mistake." ... The MetroStars have hit for just three goals in their last five matches, and are now under the realization they have to score at least two goals to stay alive -- and almost certainly score the first goal on Saturday. "If we get that first goal, watch out because anything can happen," defender Chris Leitch said. "The first goal is important; the sooner the better. If it comes in the first half, great. If not, just as long as we don't get scored on and we have the game pretty much in hand, we can push for a second one." Said MetroStars coach Bob Bradley. "If you get that first goal, as the game moves along, then you know exactly what it takes." ... The MetroStars also talked about United's touch approach to the match -- one which they expect to be even tougher this weekend. "They're not going to let us get in a rhythm and not let us start playing," said Leitch. "We expect them to foul a lot, like any team would. It's the playoffs." ... A year ago, the MetroStars faced a similar situation, losing 2-0 at home to New England in the first leg, then playing to a 1-1 draw in the return. "Maybe we went into the second game with a little bit of desperation," forward John Wolyniec said. "One thing we probably learned is that we have to go out there and play the game the way we played all year. It's not a question of sending everybody forward and hope to get an early goal. We have to keep tight in the back."