D.C. United experienced a wild range of emotions during its 3-2 victory over the New York/New Jersey MetroStars in the regular season finale yesterday before 19,832 at RFK Stadium:
The elation of Argentine midfielder Christian Gomez's first multigoal game since arriving in August and Mike Petke's game-winner midway through the second half.
United vs. MetroStars
Two-Game, Total-Goals Series
Game 1: Saturday at Giants Stadium, East Rutherford, N.J., 7:30 p.m.
Game 2: Oct. 30 at RFK Stadium 7 p.m.
The fury of another volatile match with the MetroStars, whom United will face in the first round of the MLS playoffs, beginning Saturday night at Giants Stadium.
The disappointment of yielding an early goal and coming out flat after halftime.
And the horror of watching 15-year-old Freddy Adu getting undercut and flipped onto his back at midfield, where he lay for several tense moments.
In the end, Adu was fine and so was United (11-10-9), which won a season-high third straight match, extended its home unbeaten streak to 10 and overtook the MetroStars (11-12-7) for second place in the Eastern Conference. The teams will face each other in a two-game, total-goals playoff series over the next two weekends, culminating with an Oct. 30 encounter in Washington.
Asked how he felt about his team's late-season resurgence, Coach Peter Nowak said: "Not complete. We see the team is capable of doing great stuff, but it's a long way to achieve what we want to achieve. This is the difference between a good team and a great team -- trophies. Everyone is talking about it, but not everyone is going to get it."
By winning five of its final six matches, United finished above .500 for the first time in five years and headed into the playoffs with the best home record in MLS (9-2-4). D.C. hasn't lost at RFK in five months, a 7-0-3 streak that began after a 4-2 loss to Los Angeles, and won the season series with the MetroStars with three victories and one defeat.
Adu, who had the first two-assist game of his career, started but didn't finish. Three minutes after setting up Petke's goal with a corner kick, Adu leaped for a high ball in front of the United bench and went flying backward when MetroStars defender Craig Ziadie crashed into him late. Adu landed on the back of his right shoulder, bending his body and sending him sprawling on the turf. Ziadie was ejected, meaning he'll miss the playoff opener.
"I almost died, but I feel great," Adu said with a nervous laugh. "After I hit the ground, I couldn't move for five seconds. Whatever, it's part of the game. It was pretty scary. Thank God I'm young."
Adu, who was knocked around throughout the match, was replaced by Brandon Prideaux after the scare. "Just a little headache, but I should be fine," he said.
The day started poorly for United as the MetroStars took the lead in the 14th minute. Midfielder Eddie Gaven, who will turn 18 next week, made a long run on the left before crossing into the box, where John Wolyniec made a near-post run and headed the ball past Nick Rimando for his 10th goal of the year.
But United tied it nine minutes later. Bryan Namoff sent a long ball that Jaime Moreno dummied exquisitely, letting it zip through the MetroStars' defense. Ben Olsen chased it down and bent a cross back through the box to Gomez, who smacked a 10-yard shot into the lower left corner.
Six minutes later, Moreno was crafting another threat, this time leading a counterattack by playing a give-and-go with Adu. On the run on the left, Moreno delivered a perfectly weighted ball over the defense and into the penalty area. Gomez ran onto it and lifted a right-footed shot over charging goalkeeper Jonny Walker, who collided with a retreating defender as the ball bounced into the vacant net. It was Gomez's third goal in the last two games and fourth in nine appearances.
"The goals have just been [part of] circumstances in the games," he said.
The MetroStars tied it five minutes into the second half, however, when Ricardo Clark ripped a shot from beyond 30 yards that streaked out of Rimando's reach and nestled into the right side of the net. Then in the 65th minute, Adu's corner kick found Petke crashing into the six-yard box for a powerful header into the top of the net and his first goal of the year.
Early in the day, "I said to my little guy, 'Daddy's going to score for you,' " said Petke, whose son was born last month. "My wife said, 'You better.' Honestly, I left the house and said, 'I'm not going to score.' I was fortunate enough to get one."