Sylvanus Oriakhi scored off a rebound in the 72nd minute as Howard edged visiting American University, 1-0, yesterday in a soccer game that both teams had to win and either could have.

Oriakhi, a senior from Nigeria, fielded the rebound after teammate Omo Esemuede shot from about 15 yards out on the right. Oriakhi shot quickly with his right foot and the ball rocketed past goalie Bill Ruvo, settling just under the crossbar with 27:30 gone in the second half.

Howard (6-2-2) remains in contention to receive an NCAA postseason bid. Two teams will be selected from the Mid-Atlantic region, and the Bison, ranked fifth regionally before this game, will play Old Dominion (second) and William and Mary (third) in the next two weeks. Top-ranked West Virginia (10-1-2) seems assured of a bid.

For fourth-ranked American (7-4-1), the defeat probably eliminated any chance of receiving a tournament bid. Injuries hurt the Eagles -- two starters sat out and two played with leg injuries -- but Coach Pete Mehlert conceded after the game. "They (the Bison) are a better team."

The speedy, aggressive and skilled Howard players put contstant pressure on the AU defense, and usually won close balls. The Bison outshot the Eagles, 14-9, and had more corner kicks, 4-1.

AU defenders, particularly sweeper Tom Tague and fullbacks Kevin Germain and Terry Shrider, gamely repelled Howard offensives time after time. Halfbacks Richard Burke and Eduardo Lopez provided brilliant defensive support, but their efforts near the AU goal meant they were seldom able to direct the offense as they usually do.

American did have two excellent chances to score just before Oriakhi's goal. The first time, freshman striker Jim Bentson left-footed a low dribbler that Howard goalkeeper Gilbert McPherson flicked away past the right post. Seconds later, Burke lofted a short free kick from the right side to teammate Dicky Coote, whose header hit the right post and bounded away.