Their road has become infinitely more difficult now, but the MetroStars still believe, even after Saturday's 4-1 shellacking by rival D.C. United at Giants Stadium, that they can make the playoffs.
"We cannot play like tonight but we can make the playoffs," said goalkeeper Tony Meola.
The Metros did get a bit of good news on the night when Chicago defeated Kansas City 1-0. With three games left, the Metros still trail K.C. by three points. But all three games, starting Wednesday night at Chicago, are away from Giants Stadium, where the Metros rode an 11-game unbeaten streak heading into Saturday night.
"We need to do much better, obviously," Carlos Mendes said. "All over the field we need to do much, much better but I think we're capable of and I think absolutely we can make the playoffs."
Added Mark Lisi: "We're still going to fight. We're not dead yet. I know these guys they're not going to quit."
The turning point of the game occurred in the opening two minutes of the second half when D.C. tied the game at 1-1 on an own goal by Jeff Agoos. Dema Kovalenko broke free down the left flank and sent a ball towards the far post. Agoos ran back towards goal and slid in an attempt to clear the ball, nearly colliding with Tony Meola.
But Agoos tapped the ball into the net to level the scoreline.
"I never touched the ball," Meola said. "He slid in front of me and knocked it in. He thought he could clear it and that was it."
Said Agoos: "I can equate it a little bit to a check swing in baseball. I was about to swing around and I saw Tony at the last minute."
Eight minutes later Ben Olsen scored his first goal of the year, heading in a Jamil Walker cross to put D.C. in front 2-1. The Metros switched to three defenders in the 71st minute when Sergio Galvan Rey came in for Chris Leitch, but D.C. added two more goals in a two-minute span late in the second half.
"We made some big mistakes and against a team like D.C., they'll make you pay for it and that was pretty obvious," Mendes said. "We didn't play well as a team, we made some big mistakes in the second half and they made us pay for it."
Olsen scored his second in the 85th minute, slotting in a sublime pass from Jaime Moreno and then Moreno capped the scoring two minutes later, slicing through the Metros defense and beating Meola inside the far post.
"We really hurt ourselves when we come right out in the second half and have an own goal," Metros coach Bob Bradley said. "I thought we were responding well to that, they put a very good play together for the second goal and then we just have to push and see if we can't get back in the game."
Bradley was particularly disappointed to lose in front of the crowd of 27,670, the largest non-doubleheader crowd of the season. And some in the crowd voiced their frustration with the team with a "Fire Bradley" chant.
"More than anything you want to show the people the heart of the team," Bradley said. "That's what we talked about beforehand and unfortunately a few plays in the second half made it difficult."
Dylan Butler is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.