D.C. United dealt the New England Revolution a real body blow on Saturday night, relying on Christian Gomez's first-half strike to slip past with a gutty 1-0 win in a playoff-like atmosphere at RFK Stadium.
Both teams clearly had much to play for, even if New England could claim greater desperation as they try to claw past Chicago for the Eastern's Conference's final postseason spot. But Gomez's goal midway through the first half was only goal of the match that featured a full night's worth of all-out, end-to-end soccer, United surviving the final 16 minutes after Dema Kovalenko was sent off.
Looking to gain the advantage from the start, the Revolution tested United goalkeeper Nick Rimando just moments after the opening whistle. Jose Cancela was fouled just outside the United box, and on the ensuing free kick he provided Rimando with a full examination on a curling drive over the wall that the 'keeper caught at full stretch after throwing himself across the face of goal.
But it was United who drew first blood, through a well-earned goal from Argentinean playmaker Gomez. Ben Olsen ran onto a quick throw-in at the Revs byeline, volleying a looping cross to the far post. Gomez was on hand to beat Reis with a clever mid-air side-on scissor kick, sending the United faithful into a frenzy.
Jaime Moreno returned to the lineup after missing a match with a hamstring injury, and he provided a defender's worst fear when running at defense at full speed with the ball at his feet. He did just that in the 33rd minute, running at goal before deftly cutting inside from the left and slapping a shot that Revs defender Rusty Pierce cleared wide with another sliding block.
Six minutes after halftime, Moreno again created something out of nothing when he somehow corralled a hopeful long ball just past midfield and chipped sublimely into the onrushing Gomez's path, setting the Argentinean up for a low rocket that skidded just wide of the far post.
Revs rookie Clint Dempsey was clearly determined to drive his team to a much-needed victory, showing a high work rate and covering vast amounts of territory. His hard-charging run in the 52nd minute forced Brian Carroll to chop him down just inches outside the United box, setting up a dangerous free kick that Ralston curled just wide.
United raced to the other end where an endline cross from Josh Gros ricocheted in the box and fell right into the path of Ben Olsen, but with loads of time and only the keeper to beat, the midfielder fired right at Reis.
Tempers flared as New England grew increasingly desperate in their attempts to gain a precious equalizer, with Gros and Kamler tangling right in front of the United bench. United coach Peter Nowak was incensed when Gros received a yellow card, but Kamler couldn't help himself and was carded for a retaliatory elbow only moments later.
In the 62nd minute, a nimble touch from Alecko Eskandarian past Kamler set up a trademark United counterattack, and the crowd buzzed with anticipation as Moreno turned upfield with only Pierce to beat. But the Revs defender jockeyed well and bought time for his teammates, and when the ball was switched to Kovalenko, he dallied too long before hitting a tame shot into Reis.
New England caught a tremendous break in the 74th minute when Kovalenko, without a teammate in support, foolishly pulled down Dempsey at a full sprint, earning his second yellow card and an early trip to the showers. The dismissal forced United to finish the match with 10 men and ensured a tense finale as the Black-and-Red had to abandon their attacking ambitions and drop numbers into defense.
The Revolution sent cross after cross into the United box, forcing the home side to dig deep in defense of the shutout. Rimando looked suspect on a few high balls, but was fortunate not to be punished.
Ironically, it was Moreno who rescued United in the 83rd minute after the Revs had fluidly knocked together a succession of rapid-fire passes deep in D.C. territory. With Dempsey lurking as the ball fell invitingly only 12 yards from goal, Moreno went to ground to clear the danger.
The long ball approach was then almost rewarded when Dempsey beat Nelsen in the air, and as Bryan Namoff tried to volley clear, he scuffed the ball right towards his own net. But Rimando's quick reflexes saved the day, as the 'keeper gloved the spinning ball assuredly, and he held on to record his fourth clean sheet of the season.
The Revolution now need to defeat the Chicago Fire in their season finale next weekend at home (7:30 p.m. ET, Direct Kick) in order to clinch the final playoff berth in the Eastern Conference. United will now play host to the MetroStars next Sunday (5 p.m. ET, ESPN2), with second place in the East on the line and home-field advantage when the two meet in the first round of the MLS Cup Playoffs.
MLSnet.com Man of the Match: Nick Rimando (D.C. United)
New England Revolution (7-13-9) vs. D.C. United (10-10-9)
October 09, 2004 -- RFK Stadium
DC -- Christian Gomez 2 (Ben Olsen 3) 32
New England Revolution -- Matt Reis, Steve Ralston, Jay Heaps, Rusty Pierce, Avery John, Clint Dempsey, Jose Cancela (Felix Brillant 64), Shalrie Joseph, Brian Kamler (Andy Dorman 85), Pat Noonan, Taylor Twellman.
Substitutes Not Used: Richie Baker, Steve Howey, Doug Warren.
TOTAL SHOTS: 10 (Jose Cancela 3); SHOTS ON GOAL: 2 (Jose Cancela 1, Clint Dempsey 1); FOULS: 19 (Brian Kamler 5); OFFSIDES: 2 (Taylor Twellman 2); CORNER KICKS: 4 (Jose Cancela 3); SAVES: 2 (Matt Reis 2)
D.C. United -- Nick Rimando, Bryan Namoff, Ryan Nelsen, Mike Petke, Joshua Gros, Brian Carroll, Christian Gomez (Earnie Stewart 64), Ben Olsen, Dema Kovalenko, Alecko Eskandarian (Freddy Adu 86), Jaime Moreno (Brandon Prideaux 89).
Substitutes Not Used: Kevin Ara, Nana Kuffour, Tim Lawson, Troy Perkins, Santino Quaranta, David Stokes.
TOTAL SHOTS: 9 (Christian Gomez 2, Jaime Moreno 2); SHOTS ON GOAL: 3 (3 tied with 1); FOULS: 18 (Joshua Gros 5); OFFSIDES: 2 (Ben Olsen 1, Earnie Stewart 1); CORNER KICKS: 8 (Christian Gomez 4); SAVES: 2 (Nick Rimando 2)
NE -- Pat Noonan (caution; Dissent) 41
DC -- Joshua Gros (caution; Pushing, Holding) 54
NE -- Brian Kamler (caution; Professional Foul) 57
DC -- Dema Kovalenko (caution; Reckless Foul) 61
NE -- Avery John (caution; Pushing, Holding) 73
DC -- Dema Kovalenko (caution; Reckless Foul) 74
DC -- Dema Kovalenko (ejection; Second Caution) 74
Referee: Marcel Yonan
Referee's Assistants: -Robert Fereday; Chip Reed
4th Official: Gus St. Silva
Time of Game: 1:52
Weather: Partly Cloudy-and-68-degrees
All statistics contained in this boxscore are unofficial.