D.C. United did just what they needed to do, keeping things tight in the back before sneaking two late goals to knock off the MetroStars 2-0 on Saturday evening at RFK Stadium and win their Eastern Conference Semifinal series 4-0 on aggregate. With the victory, United advances to the Eastern Conference championship match for the first time since 1999, against either the Columbus Crew or New England Revolution.
After soaking up all the pressure the MetroStars had to offer for nearly the entire match, Jaime Moreno killed off the series with an 85th-minute goal, then Bryan Namoff ended any doubt four minutes later with a goal off a bizarre deflection.
The match opened with all the effort and intensity fans expect from this passionate rivalry, with aggressive attacking and hard-nosed tackles that quickly summoned the wrath of referee Ricardo Valenzuela.
United had the first chance of the game after just six minutes, when a rash challenge from Gilberto Flores earned him an early yellow card and gave Christian Gomez an opportunity to send a free kick spinning into the Metros box. Though it looked to have taken a tricky ricochet through a tangle of players, Jonny Walker was on hand to smother the opportunity.
In the 19th minute, United spurned a great chance as Jaime Moreno's beautiful diagonal ball into the box found a streaking Gomez, and with the visitors' defense split wide open, the crowd waited expectantly for an opening goal. But Gomez's poke past the oncoming Walker rolled agonizingly wide to the right.
An already scrappy game took an ugly turn in the 28th minute when former teammates Eddie Pope and Ben Olsen each committed body-bruising fouls on their offensive counterparts in quick succession, but only Olsen was punished, picking up a yellow card from referee Valenzuela that prompted a cascade of boos from the RFK faithful.
After an MVP-caliber regular season, Moreno shows no signs of stopping his stunning renaissance in the postseason. Upon receiving an innocent-looking throw-in deep in the Metros corner in the 32nd minute, with two defenders lurking he turned up the endline in a flash, racing past a flat-footed Chris Leitch in the process before slotting back into Gomez's path. But a near-certain goal was stymied by the desperate slide of Jeff Parke.
Five minutes later, the quick feet of Kovalenko gave United a great chance in the 37th minute. The Indiana University product cut in from the left and sent a right-footed curler to the far upper corner of the net, but Walker produced a spectacular leaping save to push the shot over the bar.
Bradley made a change after just a half hour, when he took off Gilberto in favor of Sergio Galvan Rey in an attempt to interject more attacking life into his team. It nearly paid off just before the half Galvan Rey teed up a well-hit shot from distance that United 'keeper Nick Rimando could only parry wide at the far post.
Referee Valenzuela clearly felt compelled to keep a tight grip over the hard-fought match, handing out cautions with impunity -- nine in all in the game, six in the first half alone. The most damaging was the one given to Kovalenko in the 41st minute for simulation, as the United midfielder tried to earn a free kick by throwing himself down at the edge of the Metros' penalty box. The yellow card, his second of the playoffs, will put him out of next week's conference final.
In the 56th minute, a foolish mistake by Rimando nearly led to the opener after he inexplicably threw the ball right at Galvan Rey about 30 yards from goal. The Colombian passed to Gaven, who danced laterally at the top of the United box before curling a floating shot that an acrobatic Rimando had to deflect wide, sparing his embarrassment as he followed it with apologies to his teammates.
Halftime substitute Cornell Glen added some much-needed attacking aggression to the visitors' approach, and in the 59th minute, the Trinidadian almost fooled Rimando when he cut back onto his right foot and slapped a low shot through traffic in the box. The United netminder saw the shot very late, but still managed to dive to his right to gobble up the ball just inside the near post.
Five minutes later, Glen clutched his head in dismay after he was gifted a free header from point-blank range on a cross swung in from the left, only to nod the ball down directly into Rimando's path.
The enthusiastic "Blackout" crowd of 15,763 was passionate all night long, but nothing matched the roar that erupted when teen prodigy Freddy Adu made his first-ever playoff appearance in the 79th minute, coming on for a tired Olsen. He quickly made his presence known with several slashing runs at the Metros defense, then blasted a knuckling shot from range that Walker did well to slap down and smother.
The Metros poured forward with increasing desperation as time ticked down on their playoff lives, but calm defending and patient possession from the home team stymied move after move, with Nelsen particularly dependable in his center back role.
Finally, Adu and Moreno put the final nail in the Metros' coffin in the 85th minute. A poor clearance was corralled by Josh Gros, who played Adu into the left side of the box. He waited for Moreno to make his run, then found the Bolivian veteran at the back post for an easy finish into an empty net.
The goal crushed the visitors and sent the home fans into full fiesta mode with a bouncing, chanting celebration. The cheering then only got louder when Kovalenko ripped a swerving free kick at the upper corner that bounced off the crossbar, off Walker and right into the path of Namoff, who could hardly believe his good fortune as he tapped home from point-blank range for his first-ever MLS goal.
For United, it was a fifth consecutive victory against the MetroStars this year, as the league's highest scoring team during the regular season was unable to find the net in 180 minutes of playoff action against their arch-rivals. United can now sit back and await their rivals for the Eastern Conference Final, just 90 minutes away from a possible return to the MLS Cup Final.
MLSnet.com Man of the Match: Nick Rimando (D.C. United)
MetroStars (0-2-0) vs. D.C. United (2-0-0)
October 30, 2004 -- RFK Stadium
DC -- Jaime Moreno 1 (Freddy Adu 1, Joshua Gros 1) 85
DC -- Bryan Namoff 1 (unassisted) 89
MetroStars -- Jonny Walker, Craig Ziadie (Mark Lisi 58), Jeff Parke, Eddie Pope, Chris Leitch, Pablo Brenes, Ricardo Clark, Gilberto Flores (Sergio Galvan Rey 30), Eddie Gaven, Amado Guevara, John Wolyniec (Cornell Glen 46).
Substitutes Not Used: Joselito Vaca, Zach Wells.
TOTAL SHOTS: 10 (Amado Guevara 3); SHOTS ON GOAL: 6 (Cornell Glen 2, Amado Guevara 2); FOULS: 15 (Ricardo Clark 4); OFFSIDES: 1 (Pablo Brenes 1); CORNER KICKS: 4 (Pablo Brenes 3); SAVES: 5 (Jonny Walker 5)
D.C. United -- Nick Rimando, Bryan Namoff, Ryan Nelsen, Mike Petke, Earnie Stewart (Ezra Hendrickson 68), Brian Carroll, Christian Gomez (Joshua Gros 46), Ben Olsen (Freddy Adu 79), Dema Kovalenko, Alecko Eskandarian, Jaime Moreno.
Substitutes Not Used: Tim Lawson, Troy Perkins, Santino Quaranta, Eliseo Quintanilla, David Stokes, Jason Thompson.
TOTAL SHOTS: 11 (Christian Gomez 3); SHOTS ON GOAL: 7 (7 tied with 1); FOULS: 18 (Alecko Eskandarian 4, Dema Kovalenko 4); OFFSIDES: 1 (Alecko Eskandarian 1); CORNER KICKS: 6 (Alecko Eskandarian 4); SAVES: 6 (Nick Rimando 6)
MET -- Gilberto Flores (caution; Pushing, Holding) 6
MET -- Amado Guevara (caution; Reckless Foul) 18
DC -- Ben Olsen (caution; Reckless Foul) 27
DC -- Bryan Namoff (caution; Reckless Foul) 35
DC -- Dema Kovalenko (caution; Diving, Exaggeration) 41
MET -- Ricardo Clark (caution; Reckless Foul) 46+
DC -- Ryan Nelsen (caution; Reckless Foul) 61
DC -- Freddy Adu (caution; Reckless Foul) 86
MET -- Eddie Pope (caution; Tackle from Behind) 88
Referee: Ricardo Valenzuela
Referee's Assistants: Greg Barkey; Thomas Supple
4th Official: Ricardo Salazar
Time of Game: 1:49
Weather: Partly Cloudy-and-68-degrees
All statistics contained in this boxscore are unofficial.