Fire Hazard Blocking United's Playoff Path

By Steven Goff
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, October 22, 2007

A day after watching its two starting forwards get injured and its three-month unbeaten streak in league play come to an end, D.C. United hoped to catch a break yesterday when the MLS playoff field was finally settled.

No such luck.

On the strength of John Thorrington's goal in second-half added time, the Chicago Fire defeated David Beckham and the visiting Los Angeles Galaxy, 1-0, to secure fourth place in the Eastern Conference and set up a first-round meeting with top-seeded United starting Thursday night at Toyota Park in Bridgeview, Ill.

If the Fire-Galaxy game had ended in a tie or if Los Angeles had won, United (16-7-7) would have played the Kansas City Wizards and enjoyed an extra two days of rest for Luciano Emilio and Jaime Moreno. Instead, D.C. will have to hope Emilio, the MLS goal-scoring champion, and Moreno, the league's career goals leader, recuperate from injuries they suffered during a 3-2 loss to the Columbus Crew on Saturday night at RFK Stadium.

Moreno (seven goals this year) re-injured his right foot nine minutes into the match and Emilio (20 goals) suffered a mild left ankle sprain early in the second half. Although club officials are optimistic both will be available for the playoff opener, the pair will be closely monitored throughout the week.

The finale of the two-game, total-goals series will be played on Nov. 1 in Washington. ESPN2 will televise both of the United-Fire games, and is the reason the series will start early.

United surely would have preferred to play the Wizards -- not just because the series would have started two days later, but because D.C. has never scored against Chicago in five postseason meetings. In 1998, the expansion Fire upset United in MLS Cup, 2-0. Five years later, Chicago won a first-round series by a 4-0 aggregate score, and in 2005, the Fire rebounded from a 0-0 opening tie at home with a 4-0 victory at RFK.

United won this year's season series against Chicago (10-10-10) with a victory and two ties, but in the most recent meeting Oct. 13 in Washington, Troy Perkins was called upon to make several one-on-one saves to preserve a 0-0 tie.

Although Saturday's loss to Columbus was United's first in MLS since a 1-0 defeat at New York on July 22, it extended the club's winless streak to four overall. Before the loss to the Crew and the tie with the Fire, United settled for a 1-1 draw at Kansas City and dropped a 1-0 decision to Chivas Guadalajara in a Copa Sudamericana match in Mexico.

Late Saturday, United's players did not seem troubled by the team's direction.

"We're just glad to get it out now before the playoffs start," defender Bryan Namoff said. "We'll fine-tune everything and work on a few things. . . . It was good to get a wake-up call. We're done with the regular season, now it's time to move on."

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