5 pm ET (ESPN2)
D.C. United and the MetroStars meet in a prelude to their MLS Cup Playoff series beginning next week - but there still is a considerable amount on the line. While the Atlantic Cup is again up for grabs (United holding the edge with two wins thus far in the season series), the entire makeup of the Eastern Conference first round series will also be decided, as a United victory will leapfrog them above the Metros into second place in the division and give them home-field advantage for the second game of the home-and-home opening round series.
REFEREE: Kevin Terry. SAR (bench): George Gansner; JAR (opposite): Kermit Quisenberry; 4th: Abbey Okulaja
MLS Career: 100 games; FC/gm: 30.5; Y/gm: 2.7; R: 33; pens: 43
Games involving United: P12 W6 L5 T1; FC/gm: 32.1; Y/gm: 2.3; R: 2; pens: 4
Games involving MetroStars: P21 W14 L5 T2; FC/gm: 31.4; Y/gm: 2.7; R: 8; pens: 11
INJURY REPORT: D.C. UNITED - OUT: FW Thiago Martins (L knee surgery) ... METROSTARS - OUT: MD Mark Lisi (R ankle sprain); DF Tenywa Bonseu (L Achilles tendon tear); DOUBTFUL: MD Michael Bradley (R foot stress fracture)
INTERNATIONAL ABSENCES: none
SUSPENDED: DC: Josh Gros (through Oct. 16); Dema Kovalenko (through Oct. 16)
The I-95 arch-rivals meet for the fourth and final regular season in the Atlantic Cup, before they meet for the second time in history in MLS Cup Playoffs beginning next week. United have won twice - once on each ground - the MetroStars winning once, in their previous meetings this season.
A Freddy Adu goal after 16 minutes was all D.C. United needed in their last meeting two weeks ago at The Meadowlands. Adu's shot from the edge of the box took a wicked deflection off defender Jeff Parke and left Metro 'keeper Jonny Walker flat-footed on his line, United's defending rarely allowing the home side a chance over the remainder of the match.
There was also a real edge to the game, typified in the first half when Adu was involved in a fracas with Mike Magee and Chris Leitch of the Metros.
Here's Bob Bradley's team (4-4-2): Jonny Walker - Craig Ziadie, Jeff Parke, Eddie Pope, Chris Leitch - Mike Magee (Cornell Glen 27), Gilberto Flores (Pablo Brenes 69), Ricardo Clark, Amado Guevara - Eddie Gaven, John Wolyniec (Fabian Taylor 64).
Here's Peter Nowak's team (3-4-2-1): Nick Rimando - Bryan Namoff, Ezra Hendrickson, Mike Petke - Joshua Gros, Brian Carroll, Ben Olsen, Dema Kovalenko - Freddy Adu (David Stokes 94), Earnie Stewart (Brandon Prideaux 64) - Christian Gomez (Santino Quaranta 67)
On July 3 at RFK Stadium, D.C. United equaled the club record for goals in a game in a 6-2 drubbing, hitting for six goals in a league game for the first time since the inaugural season, when they put six past Dallas (July 7, 1996).
Eddie Gaven actually gave Metro the lead (18) when he beat the United offside trap and chipped D.C. 'keeper Troy Perkins with aplomb. But then Ryan Nelsen headed home a freekick (30) to pull United level, then Jaime Moreno got a most unexpected go-ahead goal, stripping Metro 'keeper Jonny Walker in the area before tapping into an empty net.
Alecko Eskandarian then continued his run of form with his first of two goals on the day, hammering home a Dema Kovalenko cross from close range to finish off a wonderful movement to give United a two-goal halftime lead. After the break, Earnie Stewart then unlocked the Metro offside trap before driving a shot home between Walker's legs (57).
Fabian Taylor slipped a shot home from inside the six after Eddie Gaven had done all the hard work battling through the United defense (63), but Eskandarian's second restored the three-goal margin (69), again driving into the goalmouth to convert for his fifth goal in three games. Then in stoppage time, Ben Olsen hammered a free kick through the MetroStars wall to close out the scoring.
A second-half blitz gave the MetroStars a 3-2 victory at home on April 17. Ben Olsen gave United the lead after 26 minutes when he converted a low cross from Dema Kovalenko from the right flank.
But Fabian Taylor, who came on as a halftime substitute, took just five minutes to pull his club level, finishing on the second chance after rising up unmarked to meet a Mark Lisi cross. John Wolyniec then gave the Metros the lead seven minutes later with an acrobatic diving header in the six-yard box, before Taylor hit for his second, slipping a shot underneath Warren from inside the area to finish the 13-minute blitz.
Freddy Adu pulled United back within one when he became the youngest player ever to score in an MLS game when he got in front of a Metros defender to stab home a rolling cross from close range (75).
The teams have won the Atlantic Cup once each since its inception before the 2002 season. United won that first year, the MetroStars claiming the trophy last season. Goal difference is the first tie-breaker, followed by away goals; if still tied, the MetroStars (as holders) will retain the cup.
A year ago, the MetroStars won twice, once home and once away - also winning once on a golden goal - in their four league encounters. United won one, with the final match a draw.
The MetroStars have won the season series three of the past four years, since United won all four league meetings (one by shootout) during the 1999 campaign.
Jaime Moreno - who spent last year with the MetroStars - is United's all-time leader against Metro with 18 goals, 10 assists. Dema Kovalenko also has 4 goals, 6 assists v Metro - again just 1goal, 3 assists with United, while Ben Olsen has 5 goals, 3 assists - all with United. Alecko Eskandarian and Freddy Adu are the only other current multiple goalscorers v Metro (2 goals each).
Only six current MetroStars have scored a goal against United - Fabian Taylor now with 3 and Eddie Gaven with 2, while four have one each (Mark Lisi, Ricardo Clark, John Wolyniec, Mike Magee). Lisi and Amado Guevara have 4 assists as well, and Joselito Vaca has three - though all of his were with Dallas Burn.
Coaches record: Peter Nowak v MET: P3 W2 L1 T0 ... Bob Bradley v DC: P19 W8 L8 T3
ALL-TIME (35 meetings): United 19 wins (1 shootout), 69 goals ... MetroStars 14 wins (1 shootout), 53 goals ... 2 draws
AT RFK STADIUM (17 meetings): United 10 wins (2 shootout), 35 goals ... MetroStars 6 wins (1 shootout), 27 goals ... 1 draw
D.C. United once again gritted out an impressive result. Christian Gomez scored the game's only goal on 32 minutes, hitting home a flying side volley from Ben Olsen's looping cross into the penalty area.
United 'keeper Nick Rimando made a number of high-quality saves in the first half, then his side survived a tense final 16 minutes after Dema Kovalenko was sent off for a second bookable offense.
United coach Peter Nowak made three changes to the team that knocked off the MetroStars 1-0 at Giants Stadium the previous Saturday. Ryan Nelsen returned from suspension for Ezra Hendrickson, who was away on international duty. The first-choice strike pair of Alecko Eskandarian and Jaime Moreno also returned from suspension and injury respectively, selected in favor of Earnie Stewart and Freddy Adu.
Here's Nowak's team (3-4-1-2): Nick Rimando - Bryan Namoff, Ryan Nelsen, Mike Petke - Joshua Gros, Brian Carroll, Ben Olsen, Dema Kovalenko - Christian Gomez (Earnie Stewart 64) - Alecko Eskandarian (Freddy Adu 86), Jaime Moreno (Brandon Prideaux 89).
"We had a lot of chances to really take this game over," Olsen said. "It was just a gutsy, gutsy win. I'm happy with the result, but nothing else. I think we could have played a lot better. ... We're winning, and that's what counts. We're not playing the way we want to, but it's hard to complain when we keep winning. It just shows that if we can start playing well, things could really come together."
United extended their home unbeaten streak to nine matches with the victory. Their last league loss at RFK Stadium came on May 19, when the Los Angeles Galaxy blitzed the Black-and-Red in a 4-2 victory.
Nick Rimando has allowed just two goals in his last five matches, recording his third sheet in the win against the Revolution to all but claim the starting role heading into the MLS Cup Playoffs.
"Come playoff time, you want to ride a hot goalkeeper, and Nicky's it right now," said goalkeeper coach Mark Simpson. "Not to take anything away from Troy (Perkins) - Troy did a great job when he went in, he held his own and gained some experience - but we've gotten on a bit of roll with Nick right now." Perkins took over for Rimando following the 4-2 home loss to Los Angeles - United's last loss at RFK.
Striker Jaime Moreno returned to the starting lineup after being forced off early in Columbus on Sept. 25. with a a hamstring strain. Despite indications he wouldn't play much more than an hour, he was on the field until replaced by Brandon Prideaux late in second-half stoppage time.
D.C. United won for the fourth time in five matches, grinding out another quality result in a 1-0 victory against the New England Revolution on Saturday night at RFK Stadium. United pulled to within one point of the MetroStars in the Eastern Conference, still in third place with 39 points from 29 matches, with the two teams guaranteed of meeting in the first round of the MLS Cup Playoffs, home-field advantage now on the line in the season finale.
The Crew followed their midweek win with a draw at the Meadowlands to extend their league-record undefeated streak to 17 games. Columbus last lost a league game on June 26.
Jeff Cunningham gave the visitors a first-half lead when he was quickest to the rebound of a shot that sailed into the area, poking it over the onrushing Jonny Walker (26).
But the MetroStars pulled level after the break (71), Sergio Galvan Rey converting from the penalty spot after Eddie Gaven was tripped up by Duncan Oughton to keep the Metros ahead of United for the time being.
MetroStars head coach Bob Bradley made four changes to the team that lost 1-0 to D.C. United at home the previous weekend. Craig Ziadie, Eddie Pope and Amado Guevara were all away on international duty, Tim Regan and Kenny Arena coming into the back four, Pablo Brenes coming in to midfield. Sergio Galvan Rey also came back into the lineup, Mike Magee still suffering from concussion.
Here's Bradley's team (4-4-2): Jonny Walker -Chris Leitch, Kenny Arena, Jeff Parke, Tim Regan (Fabian Taylor 66) - Eddie Gaven, Gilberto Flores (Joselito Vaca 66), Ricardo Clark, Pablo Brenes - Sergio Galvan Rey, John Wolyniec
Bradley would have had even more lineup questions, but Jonny Walker and Eddie Gaven were released by U.S. national team manager Bruce Arena before the team left for El Salvador, allowing them to play for the Metros. The two were not brought back into the team for the Panama qualifier at midweek.
The situation facing the MetroStars this year is eerily similar to a year ago, when they played the New England Revolution in a home-and-home series over the season's final two weeks before the two then faced off in the first round of the MLS Cup Playoffs. The Revolution won the final two league games - including a 5-2 win in the season finale when Metro boss Bob Bradley rested eight starters - then lost the playoff series.
"We make every decision based upon your team at that moment," said Bradley. "We never questioned it. It was good for everybody else to question it but we didn't because we knew mentally where we were that time. We felt that we needed to get guys a day off and get them ready for the playoffs.
"I think the mentality of this group is different. The only thing we still have to assess is physically, where some of the guys who may play two qualifiers in a short amount of time, where they are. Other than that we go down with a good mentality to go and win at RFK and get ourselves ready for the next round," he said.
The experience wasn't lost on the MetroStars players either. "That was tough, sitting out a few guys and going to New England," said Walker. "It wasn't pretty and it doesn't help the team. You can try to brush it off all you want but you lose a game the week before to a team you know you're going to be facing, you're adding fuel to their fire. You give a guy, who was it last year, Noonan, he got a few goals and got hot then he came into the playoffs and hit us again. I think we all learned from the experience.
"Psychologically I just think it's fundamental for us to go in there and put in a good performance, like we had in the second half tonight, and put in a positive result," he said. "I truly feel that nothing would be worse than to go in there with all of our guns and somehow come away with nothing and give them that psychological edge."
Magee is expected to again be available for the match in Washington, after missing out on the Columbus match with post-concussion syndrome.
On Monday, the MetroStars defeated the Fire 2-0 in the National Soccer Hall of Fame Game at At-A-Glance Field in Oneonta, N.Y. Both of the goals came late in the first half, as Metros midfielder Pablo Brenes struck two minutes before the halftime whistle and forward Fabian Taylor pounded home a left-footed shot in stoppage time. Aside from the two goals, there were few good chances for either team, both of which trotted out lineups heavy with reserves.
The MetroStars continued their uneven run to the MLS Cup Playoffs, now with just two wins (and two draws) in their last nine games after coming back to claim a 1-1 draw against a reserve-filled Columbus Crew on Saturday evening at Giants Stadium. The MetroStars are still grimly holding on to second place in the Eastern Conference with 40 points from 29 matches, one ahead of United in the battle for home-field advantage in their upcoming series in the MLS Cup Playoffs.
The teams are guaranteed of finishing second and third and meeting in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs - but the question is: In what order? A United victory will move them ahead of the MetroStars into second place in the East, meaning the return game will be played at RFK Stadium; a MetroStars victory or a draw, and they stay second, giving them home-field advantage for the second leg.
Following are the tiebreaking procedures if teams are level in the standings:
a. Head-to-head competition against all other teams equal in points, based on highest points-per-game average.
b. Overall team goal differential.
c. Total goals scored.
d-f. Tiebreakers a-c are applied to each team's regular-season road games only.
g-i. Tiebreakers a-c are applied to each team's regular-season home games only.
j. Fewest disciplinary points
k. Coin flip.
As of Oct. 9, here is how the MLS Cup playoffs would have looked:
SERIES A: (E1) Columbus vs. (E4) Chicago
SERIES B: (E2) MetroStars vs. (E3) D.C. United
SERIES C: (W1) Kansas City vs. (W4) San Jose
SERIES D: (W2) Los Angeles vs. (W3) Colorado
EASTERN CONFERENCE CHAMPIONSHIP: Winner of CLB/CHI vs. Winner of MET/DC
WESTERN CONFERENCE CHAMPIONSHIP: Winner of KC/SJ vs. Winner of COL/LA
MLS CUP 2004: Winners of Conference Championship Games
Series A - D played under home-and-home, total goals format ... If teams tied on aggregate, 30-minute, golden-goal overtime period follows, then followed by penalty kicks (if necessary) to determine Series winner ... Higher seed holds home-field advantage for Game 2 of Series ... Conference Championship Games and MLS Cup, if tied after 90 minutes, determined by 30-minute, golden-goal overtime ... If neither team scores during that time, the series will be decided via penalty kick shootout held according to FIFA regulations
Series A-D - Game One
Weekend of Friday, October 22 - Sunday, October 24 @ LOWER-SEED home site
Series A-D - Game Two (+ 30-minute golden-goal period, if tied on aggregate goals)
Weekend of Friday, October 29 - Friday, October 31 @ HIGHER-SEED home site
Eastern Conference Championship / Nov. 5 / 6 / 7
Western Conference Championship / Nov. 5 / 6 / 7
MLS Cup 2004 / Sun., Nov. 14 - ABC / 3:30 PM ET - The Home Depot Center, Carson, Calif.