Earnie Stewart and Alecko Eskandarian hit for spectacular second half goals to lift D.C. United to a key 2-0 away victory against the MetroStars in the first leg of their Eastern Conference Semifinal series Saturday night at Giants Stadium.
The goals and the victory were the first for United in the playoffs since taking MLS Cup '99, and they head home to RFK Stadium for next Saturday's second leg in a commanding position. It was the second year in a row the MetroStars dropped a 2-0 decision at Giants Stadium in the first leg of their opening round series, which they did a year ago before losing 3-1 on aggregate to the New England Revolution.
United goalkeeper Nick Rimando, playing on the same ground where he injured his knee in 2003, played a fine first half and made a number of quality stops -- most on free kicks from MetroStars midfielder Amado Guevara -- to preserve a scoreless match at the break and set the stage for Stewart and Eskandarian.
Rimando first left his mark on the game in the 12th minute when he dove quickly to his left to get a hand on Jeff Parke's header following a free kick by Pablo Brenes. In the 34th minute he left his line to put a hand on Amado Guevara's corner kick and had to scramble to regain position in time to stop John Wolyniec as he tried to send the rebound back in.
United created only one quality chance in the opening half and Rimando's counterpart, Jonny Walker, was up to the task. Eskandarian ran onto a ball in space deep on the right flank and sent a cross back into the heart of the penalty area where Dema Kovalenko waited. Walker put himself in perfect position to make the save on Kovalenko in the 27th minute.
The second half brought a reversal of form as United carried much of the play, attacking the goal in front of a small but boisterous group of supporters who made the journey up I-95 for the match.
In the 53rd minute it looked as if United had squandered the best chance of the evening. Christian Gomez delivered a picturesque through-ball to Kovalenko, but Walker reacted in time to move out and challenge the play enough so that Kovalenko's subtle flick rolled wide of the target after it rounded the on-rushing Walker.
Walker came up big again in the 56th minute, diving right to deflect away a header from Ryan Nelsen, connecting at the end of an Eskandarian corner.
But the Metros luck ran out in the 67th minute when Nelsen's pass from his own half up the right flank left Stewart alone and on the ball. As Stewart closed in on Walker from a tight angle, only MetroStars jerseys appeared in his line of sight. So Stewart took matters into his own hands, lifting a perfectly placed shot over Walker's right shoulder and onto the roof at the far post to put United ahead.
It was United's first playoff goal since Ben Olsen's goal against the Galaxy in first half stoppage time of MLS Cup '99.
Rimando got back in the act to keep his clean sheet with a tremendous 74th minute save of a Guevara free kick destined to curl inside the right post.
United indoubtedly would have been content to head home with a goal advantage, but their day was officially made when Eskandarian doubled the lead in the 88th minute.
Following an impressive buildup through the midfield and tiring MetroStars defenders, Eskandarian wound up on the ball with Jeff Parke between him and the goal. Eskandarian calmly beat Parke with a series of deft touches across the top of the box before beating a diving Walker with a low shot inside his left-hand post for the 2-0 final.
Freddy Adu, the 15-year-old phenom midfielder/forward for D.C. who had played in each of his first 30 professional games, did not see action against the MetroStars.
The series shifts now to RFK Stadium for the second leg on Sat., Oct. 30 (7:30 p.m. ET). The MetroStars will need to duplicate United's feat of winning by two goals on the road simply to force the series into extra time, while United will advance to the Eastern final even in the event of a one-goal MetroStars win.
MLSnet.com Man of the Match: Nick Rimando (D.C. United)
D.C. United (1-0-0) vs. MetroStars (0-1-0)
October 23, 2004 -- Giants Stadium
DC -- Earnie Stewart 1 (Ryan Nelsen 1) 67
DC -- Alecko Eskandarian 1 (Jaime Moreno 1) 88
D.C. United -- Nick Rimando, Bryan Namoff, Ryan Nelsen, Mike Petke, Brian Carroll, Christian Gomez (Joshua Gros 71), Dema Kovalenko, Ben Olsen, Earnie Stewart, Alecko Eskandarian, Jaime Moreno (Santino Quaranta 89).
Substitutes Not Used: Freddy Adu, Troy Perkins, Brandon Prideaux.
TOTAL SHOTS: 11 (Alecko Eskandarian 4, Dema Kovalenko 4); SHOTS ON GOAL: 5 (Alecko Eskandarian 2); FOULS: 23 (Jaime Moreno 5); OFFSIDES: 6 (Earnie Stewart 4); CORNER KICKS: 3 (Alecko Eskandarian 2); SAVES: 7 (Nick Rimando 7)
MetroStars -- Jonny Walker, Chris Leitch, Jeff Parke, Eddie Pope, Tim Regan (Joselito Vaca 75), Pablo Brenes (Sergio Galvan Rey 80), Amado Guevara, Ricardo Clark, Eddie Gaven, Cornell Glen (Mark Lisi 80), John Wolyniec.
Substitutes Not Used: Kenny Arena, Michael Bradley, Mike Nugent, Seth Stammler, Fabian Taylor, Zach Wells.
TOTAL SHOTS: 13 (Amado Guevara 3, John Wolyniec 3); SHOTS ON GOAL: 7 (Pablo Brenes 2, Amado Guevara 2); FOULS: 16 (Cornell Glen 4); OFFSIDES: 3 (Cornell Glen 2); CORNER KICKS: 4 (Amado Guevara 3); SAVES: 3 (Jonny Walker 3)
DC -- Dema Kovalenko (caution; Pushing, Holding) 50
DC -- Ryan Nelsen (caution; Pushing, Holding) 62
MET -- Jonny Walker (caution; Dissent) 68
DC -- Joshua Gros (caution; Reckless Foul) 75
Referee: Kevin Stott
Referee's Assistants: -Chris Strickland; Nathan Clement
4th Official: Erich Simmons
Time of Game: 1:52
Weather: Partly Cloudy-and-51-degrees
All statistics contained in this boxscore are unofficial.