D.C. United lost to Atlantic Cup rival MetroStars for the first time this year on Saturday night, as a disappointing performance led to a 2-1 loss at a damp RFK Stadium.
Sergio Galvan Rey gave the visitors an early lead, and only some free kick magic from Jaime Moreno pull the Black-and-Red level. But midway through the second half Youri Djorkaeff turned home a Seth Stammler pass to give the Metros the lead and the eventual three points, keeping their hopes alive for a place in the MLS Cup Playoffs.
Conditions at kickoff were wet and sloppy, and only got worse as the match went on. The slow pitch might have played a part in Facundo Erpen's slow reaction to Djorkaeff's looping ball into the box 10 minutes in, almost giving Galvan Rey a beautiful goal.
The Argentinean arrived before Nick Rimando to chip over the D.C. netminder towards the empty net, but Bryan Namoff raced back to clear it off the line and Brandon Prideaux cleared.
Despite plenty of movement by Metros strikers Djorkaeff and Galvan Rey, United's back three were looking a bit cavalier and they were punished by a delightful ball from Amado Guevara in the 17th minute. The D.C. defense was positioned flat across the top of their own area and Guevara's deft chip found Galvan Rey sneaking through a gap.
The much-maligned "King of Goals" displayed real class to settle the ball from his foot to his chest as it floated over his shoulder, then poked it under Rimando's right arm as the 'keeper raced off his line as the moment of magic from the two senior internationals gave their team the lead it needed in their desperate playoff push.
Stung by the Metros tally, United took a chokehold on possession and poured forward relentlessly. Just shy of the half-hour mark, Olsen was fouled just inches outside the top of the penalty box, setting up a dangerous free kick inside the restraining arc.
United had several reasons to feel slighted not to score on the ensuing play, as Moreno stepped over the ball and allowed Gomez to rip a shot that ricocheted off Galvan Rey's arm as he stood in the wall, then caromed off the base of the left post.
The home side's Argentinean duo each should have leveled matters five minutes before the half, only to be doubly denied by Metros netminder Tony Meola. First Gomez got in behind Jason Hernandez on the left flank to set up a clear shot at goal, but with the ball on his less favored left foot, he blasted a low effort straight at Meola, who parried it wide. On the ensuing corner, the ball fell to Josh Gros about 25 yards out, and the visitors' back line pushed out of the box too late as Erpen received Gros' hard pass in an onside position with only Meola to beat. The center back curled a shot that seemed destined for the upper corner of the net, only for the veteran 'keeper to make an acrobatic save.
Just when it seemed that the beleaguered Metros would escape to the locker room with their lead, Moreno concocted a stunning free kick goal in added time to give his side a vital boost going into the break.
The set piece was placed in the right channel about 20 yards out, and as Moreno strode forward, Meola leaned to the near post in expectation of a shot over the wall. But the Bolivian's bid was hit with vicious swerve and arrowed past the netminder and into the upper left corner to make it 1-1.
After the break, Metros captain Guevara came out with the intensity his team's situation demanded, and deserved a goal after leading a swift counterattack that began with a United defensive giveaway. He combined quickly with Djorkaeff to make space 25 yards out, then drove a low blast that skimmed along the wet turf and beat Rimando easily, only to bounce back off the far post.
But the adventurous tack proved more the exception than the rule for the Gotham side and United regained control of the tempo. Yet for all that possession, United were lacking the cutting edge to finish their many chances, and suddenly found themselves on the outside looking in when a rare Metros counterattack exposed the home side's defense in the 68th minute.
Second-half substitute Stammler raced down the right flank had his first cross blocked by Prideaux, but the ball fell kindly for him and his second effort rolled across the top of the box untouched as the D.C. defense retreated. Djorkaeff arrived at the perfect moment and finished the move with a merciless first-timer past Rimando.
More extended D.C. possession in the Metros end led to a spectacular effort by Erpen five minutes from full time. The defender had crept forward to the top of the penalty box, then launched himself into an overhead kick off Moreno's cross. His audacious shot forced a nimble save out of Meola, who bobbled and gloved the ball just before Olsen arrived.
With the visitors fully bunkered in, United huffed and puffed to find that elusive leveler but could find the magic, and when referee Abbey Okulaja finally blew for full time, the Metros bench burst into life, knowing their MLS Cup dreams had lived another day. They travel to California to take on Chivas USA next Sunday, now tied with the Kansas City Wizards for the fourth and final playoff spot in the East, while United will try to recapture their momentum in the season finale against Columbus.
MLSnet.com Man of the Match: Amado Guevara (MetroStars)
Charles Boehm is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.