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COLUMBUS CREW STADIUM
7:30 pm ET (FSN-Ohio)
Another massive six-point battle in the Eastern Conference looms, though the home-standing Columbus Crew gave themselves a little breathing room with their victory at midweek. The Crew are riding an eight-game unbeaten streak - one short of the club record - and now trail the East leaders MetroStars by just three points (with a game in hand). D.C. United come off a draw with New England that they looked at more as two points lost than one point won, and need the full three points to ensure they stay ahead of the Revs and Fire, who they lead by just two and three points.
REFEREE: Marcel Yonan. SAR (bench): Fabio Tovar; JAR (opposite): Emiliano Monje; 4th: Abbey Okulaja
MLS Career: 47 games; FC/gm: 29.2; Y/gm: 3.0; R: 7; pens: 15
Games involving Crew: P8 W2 L3 T3; FC/gm: 32.1; Y/gm: 4.1; R: 2; pens: 4
Games involving United: P11 W6 L3 T2; FC/gm: 31.1; Y/gm: 3.5; R: 0; pens: 6
INJURY REPORT: COLUMBUS CREW - OUT: DF Stephen Herdsman (L groin strain) ... D.C. UNITED - OUT: FW Thiago Martins (L knee surgery); FW Eliseo Quintanilla (R fractured fibula); FW Santino Quaranta (adductor surgery); DF Ryan Nelsen (abdominal surgery); GK Nick Rimando (R knee surgery); PROBABLE: DF Mike Petke (L quadriceps strain).
INTERNATIONAL ABSENCES: CLB: FW Erick Scott (Costa Rica Olympic team)
SUSPENDED: DC: Ben Olsen (through Aug. 21; 21 CP)
YELLOW PERIL: none
This is the third of four meetings between the two teams this season, the first of the two at Crew Stadium. The Eastern Conference rivals will conclude their season series at the Ohio State Fairgrounds on Sept. 25.
In their second meeting this season on June 19 at RFK Stadium, the Crew's seven-game unbeaten streak was done in by three first-half goals in a 3-1 United victory, Alecko Eskandarian scoring twice (his first since the season opener).
Jaime Moreno tapped in a low cross from Ronald Cerritos after just six minutes, then Eskandarian hit twice in 10 minutes with a pair of marvelous goals. He finished a nifty tic-tac-toe passing sequence in the left side of the area when he hammered home a looping volley from a cheeky lifted ball from Moreno (35), then just before the halftime whistle, hit a world-class freekick from some 19 yards over the wall and inside Jon Busch's left-hand post.
Manny Lagos pulled a goal back just before the final whistle for the visitors, but the Crew still went down to defeat for the first time since April 24, having won four games and drawn three in between.
Here's Peter Nowak's team (3-4-1-2): Troy Perkins - Bryan Namoff, Mike Petke, Brandon Prideaux - Joshua Gros, Brian Carroll, Ben Olsen, Dema Kovalenko (Kevin Ara 83) - Jaime Moreno - Ronald Cerritos, Alecko Eskandarian (Freddy Adu 69)
Here's Greg Andrulis's team (3-5-2): Jon Busch - Nelson Akwari, Robin Fraser, Chad Marshall - Duncan Oughton, Simon Elliott, Manny Lagos, Ross Paule (Kyle Martino 65), Eric Denton (Chris Wingert 67) - Jeff Cunningham (Michael Ritch 77), David Testo
A late penalty gave the Crew a 1-1 draw at RFK Stadium on May 8. Dema Kovalenko's diving header off a Ben Olsen cross gave United a dream start after just four minutes. But as the clock ticked over 90 minutes, United defender Brandon Prideaux was adjudged to have pulled down Frankie Hejduk and Ross Paule converted from the spot for an equalizer.
A year ago, United won the first of the four meetings between the clubs - then the Crew won two of the final three with one drawn. United won 3-0 at home on June 14 (Petke 43; Eskandarian 79, 85), before Columbus returned the favor at Crew Stadium two weeks later with a 3-0 triumph (West 8, McBride 25, Walsh 60).
The teams played to a 1-1 draw on Oct. 4 in Columbus (Paule 19 - Etcheverry 59 pen), before Columbus won two weeks later at RFK Stadium in dramatic fashion in a last-ditch effort to save their playoff future (Stoitchkov 37, Petke 90 - West 26; McBride 90 pen, 100).
D.C. has won just three times in the last four seasons against the Crew, winning once this year and last, the victory before coming on Aug. 25, 2001. In the first four years of MLS, United won 12 of the 16 league meetings between the two teams (five by shootout), and three times eliminated the Crew from the MLS Cup Playoffs.
Jaime Moreno is United's all-time leader against the Crew with 10 goals, 6 assists. Among active players, Ronald Cerritos is next with 6 goals, 3 assists (none while with United), then Dema Kovalenko (3goals, 3 assists - 1 goal with United), and then Mike Petke (3 goals, 2 while with United). Santino Quaranta and Alecko Eskandarian each have 2 goals v Columbus.
Manny Lagos leads current Crew players with 6 goals, 3 assists v United, but none of those came while with Columbus. Jeff Cunningham is next with 5 goals, 1 assist, while Brian Maisonneuve has 1 goal, 8 assists. The Crew's all-time leader against D.C. is Brian McBride with 11 goals, 5 assists.
Coaches record: Peter Nowak vs. CHI: P2 W1 L0 T1... Greg Andrulis v DC: P12 W6 L3 T3
ALL-TIME (30 meetings): Crew 11 wins (0 shootout), 48 goals ... United 15 wins (5 shootout), 47 goals ... 4 draws
AT COLUMBUS: (14 meetings): Crew 8 wins (0 shootout), 27 goals ... United 4 wins (2 shootout), 15 goals ... 2 draws
Preki made his return to action after missing the entire season to this point after a preseason injury, but it was Kyle Martino who at the heart of all the key moves in the Crew victory.
In the 43rd minute, Martino was taken down in the box by Wizards defender Shavar Thomas, and Ross Paule sent the Crew into the break with the lead when he converted from the penalty spot.
Just after Martino was stopped cold by Wizards 'keeper Tony Meola when he was through all alone, the Wizards raced to the other end and equalized through substitute Taylor Graham, who headed home a Diego Gutierrez cross (79) from the left.
But Martino grabbed the winner in stoppage time, ripping home a blast from just outside the area to send the Crew to victory.
"It feels great simply because that seemed like one of those games that we were going to come out of there with a point," Martino said. "I could see us coming into the locker room and everyone was going to be furious and I could see it coming and creeping in."
Crew head coach Greg Andrulis made one change to the team that played to a scoreless draw with the Los Angeles Galaxy the previous weekend at The Home Depot Center. With Frankie Hejduk away on national team duty, Eric Denton got the start on the left side of midfield.
Here's Andrulis's team (3-5-2): Jon Busch - Nelson Akwari, Robin Fraser, Chad Marshall - Chris Wingert, Simon Elliott, Duncan Oughton, Ross Paule, Eric Denton (Jeff Cunningham 61) - Kyle Martino, Edson Buddle (David Testo 71) (Manny Lagos 93+).
"It was a bit of a relief," Elliott said. "We haven't lost for a while, but we haven't set the world on fire. We've had too many ties. We were playing quite well, we went up 1-nil, then we were playing worse with the lead than when we were even, which is a quite a strange dynamic to say the least."
The eight-game unbeaten run is one shy of the club record, set in 2001 when they went nine games without a loss from July 4 to Aug. 19 (seven wins, two draws).
Defender Stephen Herdsman, who hasn't played in a league game since starting the opening eight games of the season, is hoping to again be available for the Galaxy's return match in Columbus on Sept. 4.
Frankie Hejduk played the full match at right back in the USA's 1-1 draw with Jamaica on Wednesday to open the semifinal round of World Cup qualifying.
Erick Scott is still in Athens after Costa Rica's dramatic qualification for the quarterfinals of the Olympic Football Tournament. Scott came on as a halftime substitute in Costa Rica's 4-2 victory against Portugal that secured their berth in the knockout phase, where the ticos will play heavily favored Argentina.
The Columbus Crew extended their season-long unbeaten run to eight matches at midweek, a late goal giving them a 2-1 victory against the Kansas City Wizards at home. The Crew are now just three points behind the MetroStars in second place in the Eastern Conference, with 29 points from 20 matches, the midweek win the first of two games in hand they own over the division leaders.
A late Andy Dorman goal gave United and the Revolution a share of the spoils - and blunted the impact of a wonderful Jaime Moreno display. Steve Ralston gave the visitors the lead in the 38th minute when he skipped through a couple of tackles in the area and hooked a curling shot inside the left-hand post.
But straight off the kickoff, United equalized when Moreno tapped home from close range after the Revs failed to clear a bouncing ball in the box, then after the break, Moreno gave the home side the lead on a wonderful goal, sprung by a terrific through ball from Dema Kovalenko before rounding 'keeper Matt Reis and a defender and sliding the ball home.
Yet the Revolution had one more answer, Dorman hitting home from a corner kick after a tackle landed right at his feet in the area (85) and extending their unbeaten run to seven games.
"It's very disappointing," said Moreno. "We created a lot of chances to win the game, but we didn't put them away and, at the end, we got punished for it."
United coach Peter Nowak made one change to the team that defeated the Colorado Rapids 3-1 the previous Wednesday. Mike Petke was out through injury, Bryan Namoff coming into the back three in his place.
Here's Nowak's team (3-4-1-2): Troy Perkins - Bryan Namoff, Ezra Hendrickson, Brandon Prideaux - Earnie Stewart, Dema Kovalenko, Ben Olsen, Joshua Gros - Freddy Adu (Brian Carroll 81) - Alecko Eskandarian (Mike Petke 69), Jaime Moreno.
"We got lucky not to lose this game" at the end, Nowak said. "Jaime was on fire, but we needed [others] to finish their chances. We should've finished the game."
United has signed two players since, the big acquisition playmaking midfielder Christian Gomez from Arsenal in Argentina's Primera Division. Gomez began his professional career with Nueva Chicago (second division) in 1991, scoring 46 goals in 155 games in six seasons. He then moved to Independiente, playing four seasons and seeing 80 matches, scoring 12 goals. He moved to Argentinos Juniors in 1999, returning to Nueva Chicago the following season and winning promotion, scoring 14 goals in 63 games in two seasons. He returned to Independiente in 2002, scoring a goal in 10 matches, before then transferring to Arsenal where he had six goals in 30 appearances.
"We looked in a lot of places, but Christian was our choice because we believe he's going to make a difference," Nowak said. "We need somebody who is going to create the chances, who is going to be the engine in the midfield. With Freddy [Adu], we're happy right now. Christian is going to be another option. ... Especially in a game like today, he will be very useful because he's going to keep the ball with five, six minutes remaining and keep the ball moving. He's going to be a perfect addition for us."
United also signed midfielder Tim Lawson from SV Elversburg of the Regionalliga Sud in Germany (third division), and he will available for selection at the weekend. A four-year starter at the University of Washington where he scored 14 goals and 17 assists in 70 appearances (34 starts), Lawson has made 118 appearances (98 in the first XI) for Elversburg over the last four seasons, scoring a goal in each year.
D.C. United were minutes away from winning back-to-back games for the first time this season, before allowing a late equalizer to settle for a 2-2 draw with the New England Revolution at RFK Stadium last Saturday. United remained in third place in the Eastern Conference with 25 points from 21 matches, now seven points behind the leading MetroStars and still just a point behind the Crew.