EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J., Oct. 2 -- D.C. United and the New York/New Jersey MetroStars packed a game full of scuffles, near misses, goal line clearances and injuries -- not to mention Freddy Adu's fifth goal of the season -- into the first 25 minutes Saturday night at Giants Stadium.
But as far as United was concerned, the most important moment came more than an hour later, when referee Kevin Stott blew the final whistle following five anxious minutes of injury time, signaling the club's 1-0 victory for its first win on the road in more than four months.
United midfielder Ben Olsen and MetroStars forward Fabian Taylor battle for control of the ball in D.C.'s 1-0 win on Saturday.
(Bill Kostroun - AP)
"For a while I think we had a feeling like, 'Oh, great, we're on the road. Chances are we're going to lose,' " midfielder Ben Olsen said. "And now we've gotten rid of that and we know now that we can win on the road. We have that confidence, especially with the playoffs coming around."
The victory virtually clinched a playoff berth for United (9-10-9), which will wrap up the regular season with a pair of home matches.
Before this short-handed win, United (2-8-5 road record) hadn't won away from RFK Stadium since a 1-0 decision at New England on May 29.
Both of Adu's goals on the road have come at the Meadowlands, the first coming in April. ("I'm liking this stadium, man!" he said.) The second-place MetroStars fell to 11-11-6 and had their lead over United in the Eastern Conference shrink to three points. The teams likely will meet in the first round of the playoffs.
"It was a great effort from those guys and I'm proud of them," Coach Peter Nowak said. "They did everything right. We didn't have the offensive firepower like we're supposed to have, but we were very organized. They showed a lot of fight tonight and they found a way to win."
United played without three top players -- leading scorers Jaime Moreno (hamstring) and Alecko Eskandarian (yellow card suspension) and defender Ryan Nelsen (red card suspension). Adu and Earnie Stewart, who was 20 years old when Adu was born, started alongside each other on the frontline.
Nelsen's critical role in central defense was filled by Ezra Hendrickson, who played an instrumental part in the wild first half. In the ninth minute, Mike Magee set up Eddie Gaven, who touched the ball past charging goalkeeper Nick Rimando, but his shot toward an empty net was cleared just short of the goal line by the retreating Hendrickson.
Five minutes later, Hendrickson blocked a dangerous opportunity by Magee near the top of the penalty area. But United began to settle down and find space in the MetroStars' backfield. In the 16th minute, after a United free kick was deflected aside, Adu controlled the ball at the top of the box and ripped a right-footed shot that deflected off defender Jeff Parke and floated over goalkeeper Jonny Walker into the net.
"When there's chaos in front of the goal, this is what they teach you in practice -- hit the ball hard, hit it on target and if it deflects off somebody and keeps [going], it's in the net," Adu said. "If that's what it takes to win the game, I'll take it."
Adu, making his first start in a month, was in the middle of things five minutes later, but not the type of involvement that the D.C. coaching staff would like. Adu and Chris Leitch were smashing into each other chasing the ball. When play stopped, Magee gave Adu a soft shove, and Adu retaliated with a firm push. Both were given yellow cards (Adu's fourth of the season).
Another scuffle broke out in the 25th minute and was more serious than the first, involving Walker, United's Christian Gomez and the MetroStars' Amado Guevara before every other player on the field joined in.
The nastiness carried over into the tunnel at halftime as players and coaches exchanged pushes and comments. "Tempers and emotions are hot right now, that's all," Olsen said.