Team America gave up two goals on defensive lapses, including the game-winner with less than five minutes remaining, and lost perhaps its most important game of the season, 2-1, to the Montreal Manic before 5,281 yesterday at RFK Stadium.

It was the smallest crowd to watch Team America this season, either at home or on the road.

Team America has lost eight straight games and nine of 10. It is 8-13 and trails Montreal by 37 points for the eighth and final spot in the North American Soccer League playoffs. Montreal (9-13) remains in last place in the Northern Division with 93 points.

"We are always giving away goals," said Team America Coach Alkis Panagoulias. "The other teams never have chances against us. We gave Montreal the winning goal."

Team America, which had trailed since the fifth minute but kept steady pressure on offense throughout, tied at 1 on a goal by Bruce Savage with 12 minutes remaining.

But Montreal scored the game winner with 4:47 left when Team America midfielder Perry Van Der Beck attempted to shield a rolling ball in the left corner with his body and let it roll out of bounds. But forward Alan Willey stole the ball and fed Dale Mitchell in front, who redirected the ball past goalie Paul Hammond into the net from 10 feet.

"I would have been better off just kicking it out of bounds," mumbled Van Der Beck, who otherwise played a solid game. "I can't believe a game like this comes down to one player."

"The most important thing was to break the losing streak," said Savage, whose mother was on hand from Florida to see his first professional goal. "Losing took away almost all of the pleasure from my goal. We just gave away Montreal's goals."

Things went poorly for Team America from the start. The Manic took a 1-0 lead at 5:41 when Team America failed to defend a left-side corner kick from Dragan Vujovic. The ball slipped through two defenders on the fly into the box, where Willey headed it into the left corner for his 11th goal of the season.

"I really sympathize with Panagoulias," said Montreal Coach Andy Lynch, whose team will become Team Canada, the developmental squad for the Canadian national team, after the regular season. "He's got a young team, and they're going to make a lot of mistakes. They're going to give up goals, easy goals. It is to be expected."

Appearing ready to concede the loss with lackluster midfield play in the second half, Team America tied at 78:25 when Savage scored on an unassisted goal. Stealing a pass from Mitchell back to goalie Mike Hewitt, Savage broke in alone, pulled the goalie out of position and scored with a slow roller into the right corner.

The goal was only the team's 20th this season and the first in four games. Team America had not scored a goal in regulation since the team's 3-2 loss to Fort Lauderdale July 16, a span of 422 minutes 21 seconds.

Montreal held a 22-16 advantage in shots, but Team America had the better scoring opportunities. Forward Tony Crescitelli got off a team-high six shots, including one breakaway and another that hit the post. He has not scored this season, although he has a team-high 54 shots.