D.C. United Defeats Rapids, 2-1, Wins Second Title
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, October 27, 1997; Page D1
The rain was pounding RFK Stadium. The temperature had dipped into the low forties. A desperate opponent was scrambling to get just one shot on net.
But after the final seconds had ticked away on a 2-1 victory over the Colorado Rapids in Major League Soccer's championship game yesterday, D.C. United's players and a sellout crowd of 57,318 forgot all about the bone-chilling elements and late-game anxieties.
It was time to celebrate a second consecutive league title for United and perhaps the proudest-if not the dryest or warmest-moment for the 2-year-old league.
"It's an unbelievable feeling," United captain John Harkes said. "What we have accomplished this year is just amazing. We've started a tradition here, a tradition in class and style-D.C. United style."
United took a 1-0 lead on forward Jaime Moreno's first-half goal, increased the margin to 2-0 on midfielder Tony Sanneh's header midway through the second half and repelled the Rapids during a frantic final 15 minutes that followed a goal by Colorado's Adrian Paz.
D.C. (26-11) completed a perfect postseason with its fifth consecutive victory and 10th playoff win in a row, dating from last year.
Yesterday's playing conditions were eerily similar to those for last year's final in Foxboro, Mass., in which heavy rain and winds provided the backdrop for United's 3-2 overtime victory over the Los Angeles Galaxy. But as was the case a year ago, United had a watery celebration.
"It's very difficult to repeat," Coach Bruce Arena said. "Everybody was after us all year and our guys got after it every day. We became a good team and we had to be a good team. Today we played a great game against a very good opponent."
United got all it could handle from the Rapids, who followed a 14-18 regular season with two playoff series upsets. Colorado was clearly outmatched in terms of individual matchups yesterday, but it gallantly stayed in the game and had numerous scoring opportunities.
"We fought them hard for 90 minutes and had a lot of chances," Rapids defender Steve Trittschuh said. "Sometimes those chances go your way, and sometimes they don't. But today they didn't go our way."
Encouraged by a crowd that sang and danced and chanted all day, United appeared as if it would make quick work of the Rapids. Midfielder Marco Etcheverry, United's gifted playmaker, set up three chances in the opening 10 minutes, and Bolivian compatriot Moreno, the game's most valuable player, was everywhere.
But United remained scoreless, due to its inability to find the net and Colorado goalkeeper Marcus Hahnemann's solid work. The Rapids' strategy to absorb United's pressure and counterattack quickly worked well. Chris Henderson's 25-yarder zipped just wide of the right post, and Trittschuh's six-yard header went directly at goalie Scott Garlick.
But United knows how to counterattack, too, and Moreno-the league's leading scorer during the regular season with 16 goals-converted one into a 1-0 lead.
Defender David Vaudreuil flipped the ball through midfield to Sanneh, who was charging hard down the right flank. Sanneh crossed the ball into the penalty area, where United forward Raul Diaz Arce let the ball skid past and meet Moreno on the far side. Moreno turned it inside, set himself and drilled a low, 12-yard shot past Hahnemann.
"I just shot it and fortunately it went in," Moreno said. "I was a little bit surprised that [Diaz Arce] didn't shoot the ball because he was in better position than me."
In the 68th minute, United extended its lead. Harkes lofted a high cross from the left side to the middle of the penalty area, where the unmarked Sanneh sent a downward header from six yards into the lower right corner.
United's pressure continued, but the goals did not, and with 15 minutes to go, the Rapids got back in the game. On the right side of the box and with little net at which to shoot, Paz drilled a rising shot past Garlick and into the far side netting.
Less than a minute after Paz's goal, Colorado forward Wolde Harris had a clear, 20-yard shot, but it sailed harmlessly over the crossbar.
"We had chances to put the game away at 2-0," Arena said. "Our inability to get the third goal was due to the fighting power [of Colorado]. They made it 2-1 and really gave us everything we could handle."
MLS Notes: Fans rushing to see United players after the game pushed through a railing at the north side of the stadium, and stadium manager Jim Dalrymple said one fan was taken by ambulance to D.C. General Hospital for treatment of minor injuries.
D.C. police said the incident happened as the players assembled for a team photograph. As many as 50 people may have been in the group of fans that toppled the railing, police said. Several people were treated at the scene.
United's season is not over. On Wednesday, it will play MLS's Dallas Burn in the U.S. Open Cup final in Indianapolis. United is the defending champion in that competition, too.
1 © Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company
© Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company