E. RUTHERFORD, N.J. - They might be without suspended Ante Razov and Michael Bradley, but the MetroStars bring plenty of motivation with them to Washington, D.C. for their critical game against D.C. United at RFK Stadium on Saturday night.
There's playoff motivation, with the Metros two points out of the fourth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference with two games to play. There's the revenge factor, with the MetroStars looking to pay United back for an embarrassing 4-1 defeat at Giants Stadium a week ago.
And then there's the motivation of playing for Bob Bradley, who Tuesday was fired by Metros president and general manager Alexi Lalas.
"There's motivation with Bob, motivation for other guys on your squad," Chris Leitch said. "Do we have a bad taste in our mouths from when D.C. came in our place and beat? I sure as hell hope so. I hope we want to go in and make it a good competitive game."
After squandering a chance to move into a tie with Kansas City for the last playoff spot, the MetroStars need three points Saturday night. But picking up three points against D.C. United - home or away - has not been easy to come by for the Metros. They are 1-6-1 in the last eight meetings and haven't won at RFK Stadium since July 5, 2003.
As was the case last year, it appears the defending MLS Cup champions are playing well down the stretch drive. And even though United clinched a playoff berth last week at Giants Stadium, they still have their sights set on the Eastern Conference regular season title.
"They seem to always make a push at the end of the year," Mike Magee said. "They're one of those teams, I hate playing against them more than any other team in the league. They always seem to step it up at the right time, they're so difficult to play against."
One of the things that make D.C. so tough to play against is its multi-layered attack, with Christian Gomez and Jaime Moreno leading the charge.
"Their two guys out wide work very hard, going up front and coming back." Metros interim coach Mo Johnston said. "We need to take care of those two and we need to be harder on them. For me, we've shown them too much respect and that respect goes right out the window come Saturday. There is no respect."
Said Michael Bradley, who declined to talk about his father's firing: "They press, they compete hard, physically they foul a lot and they have some really special players, guys who when it comes down to making plays going forward, they're really good at it."
Johnston liked the passion and intensity of the Metros on Wednesday night in Chicago, one day after the emotional departure of Bradley as coach. But after jumping ahead 2-0 on a pair of Eddie Gaven goals in the first half, the Metros' three points disappeared in a frantic final few minutes, which also saw Razov sent off with a straight red card.
"Going to Chicago and winning is tough in the best of times," Johnston said. "Under a cloud, getting a point in Chicago, I was very pleased. I try and keep it sharp and short and have fun and enjoy the game. That's the way I played.
"I want people competing and I want people competing on a higher level. I don't want people coming to training and taking two and three days off, that's not going to happen. So far the response has been very good."
An early yellow card to Michael Bradley put him out of Saturday's game. Johnston said he already knows what he's doing with the lineup, but declined to reveal the changes.
Two changes he made Wednesday were giving rookie Jason Hernandez his first MLS start, replacing suspended Carlos Mendes in central defense, and starting Tim Regan on the left side of the back four in place of Tim Ward, who was a healthy scratch.
"I think a lot of guys left a lot of themselves on the field," Hernandez said. "We went down a man for a while and I think it's just unfortunate. Guys worked really hard, played their guts out and at the end of the day we still didn't come out with three points which was our goal. It's disappointing but there's still some good things to be taken out of it and taken to D.C."
A Metros loss and a Kansas City win against New England eliminates the Metros from playoff contention. And if the Metros end up tied with the Wizards after next week's season finale at Chivas USA, the two teams have evenly split their season series, so K.C. will likely go to the playoffs on goal differential.
But Johnston is confident the Wizards, winless in their last six games and who haven't won since Aug. 19, will continue to falter.
"I can't see Kansas City winning their next two games," Johnston said of his former club. "They're struggling. I'm hearing certain things."
Dylan Butler is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.