CARSON, Calif. - Behind a remarkable performance in goal by Tony Meola and a career game by Michael Bradley, the MetroStars battled their way into the MLS Cup Playoffs with a 2-0 win against Chivas USA at The Home Depot Center on Sunday afternoon.
Meola made great save after great save and Bradley scored his first career MLS goal early in the second half to put the MetroStars (47 points) past the Kansas City Wizards (45 points) and into the final Eastern Conference playoff spot, setting up a first-round matchup with the New England Revolution. Amado Guevara sealed the result with a stoppage-time goal.
The MetroStars were playing with their destiny in their own hands, needing only a win to send them through to the postseason, after the Wizards failed to pick up the full three points in their previous evening's match at FC Dallas.
The first half belonged to the hosts as the MetroStars failed to match Chivas' intensity and conceded several quality scoring chances while creating virtually none for themselves.
The second half proved to be decisive as the MetroStars came out with a new sense of urgency, realizing that a failure to pull out a win would mean an end to their topsy-turvy season.
The result was a frenetic pace that the MetroStars took advantage of, allowing them to claim the do-or-die win.
Chivas started the game off at a furious pace, looking more like a playoff contender than one whose goal heading into the match was to not finish in last place in the Western Conference.
In the sixth minute, MetroStars defender Carlos Mendes cleared a slow-rolling ball off the goal line after Chivas' Francisco Mendoza beat Meola to a loose ball in the penalty area and tapped it toward goal. The play was one of a string of near-scores Chivas had in the first 10 minutes of the match.
Also in the sixth minute, Chivas were nearly given a gift goal when Meola's attempt to throw the ball out of the area went awry, instead dropping the ball right at the feet of Francisco Palencia a few feet away. Palencia had his back turned to the play however, and when he collected the ball, his soft shot was picked out of the air by Meola.
Minutes later, Meola made a great kick-save on the line off a Juan Pablo Garcia shot from 10 yards out.
The MetroStars had a goal denied in the 32nd minute. Bradley took a ball inside the Chivas penalty area and passed left to Sergio Galvan Rey who took a quick shot at goal. However, Chivas defender Ezra Hendrickson was positioned on the line and cleared it away.
Chivas continued pressing the MetroStars' defense throughout the first half and in the 38th minute Meola was forced to make a close range save on a hard shot by Garcia.
The MetroStars came out of the halftime break with an intensity to match Chivas and they took the lead in the 49th minute. A corner wasn't fully cleared and Mark Lisi sent a cross back into the box from inside the left flank to Bradley, who got a head on the ball just as Chivas 'keeper Sergio Garcia leaped to punch the ball away, the ball finding the inside netting. It was his first career goal in 30 MLS matches.
In the 59th minute, MetroStars captain Youri Djorkaeff failed to convert what may have been one of the easiest goals of his long career. Rey received a long pass off a quick restart at midfield, passed to Tim Regan who gave the ball right back to Rey at the top of the penalty area and with Chivas 'keeper Garcia racing toward Rey, he cleverly back heeled the ball across the top of the area to a wide-open Djorkaeff. The French World Cup winner controlled the ball and side-footed a shot that clanged off the right post and bounced away from the open net.
Later, in the 66th minute, the MetroStars were spared from playing a man down after Jeff Agoos took down Matt Taylor as he raced toward goal. Agoos, who was the last defender on the play, perhaps should have been sent off but instead was shown a yellow card by referee Kevin Stott.
Five minutes later, Chivas were unlucky not to equalize, Isaac Romo's header from five yards out rattling the crossbar.
In the 80th minute, Meola again came up with a big save, leaping to punch away a shot by Garcia that deflected off Lisi. Then in the 85th minute, Meola made another season-saving stop off a Taylor close range shot, diving to his right to keep his clean sheet intact.
On the MetroStars' ensuing possession, Djorkaeff again failed to seal the victory, his shot from distance hitting the left post.
But in the fourth minute of stoppage time, Guevara put the nail in the coffin with a uncontested shot from 25 yards that he floated over Garcia who was positioned well off his line.
MLSnet.com Man of the Match: Tony Meola (MetroStars)