D.C. United lost to the Los Angeles Galaxy 2-1 last night at RFK Stadium after an official's controversial ruling in the 90th minute gave the Galaxy a free kick, which forward Carlos Cienfuegos got past Tom Presthus to hand United its second straight loss.

The ruling and resulting goal left most of the 21,138 on hand at RFK seemingly stunned. With six seconds left, United midfielder Geoff Aunger pulled down the Galaxy's Simon Elliott in front of United's net. The clock was stopped, allowing Los Angeles (8-6) to prepare for the kick, and Cienfuegos's attempt curved into the top-left corner of the net. The winning goal left United (10-5) wondering what had happened.

After the game, senior assistant referee Nate Clement said officials felt United was delaying the free kick, so the clock was stopped. However, the stoppage was made without a signal from referee Baojie Sun, a visiting official from China.

"I don't know if anyone noticed today, but it wasn't the referee's responsibility to make clock stoppages," Clement said after the game. "He's an exchange referee from China. He's not familiar with [signaling to stop the clock]."

Los Angeles couldn't explain the call, either.

"Sometimes you don't ask why," Galaxy Coach Sigi Schmid said. "You just walk away and say thank you."

It was a disheartening result for a United team that played at a furious pace and outplayed Los Angeles for most of the game. And after MLS fined United President and General Manager Kevin Payne for comments about officiating a few weeks ago, the team wasn't happy about last night's result.

"We're extremely disappointed, obviously, but also very proud of how this team came back," United Coach Thomas Rongen said. ". . . One of the beauties of the game is that it kicks you in the butt when you least expect it, so we'll be better for it."

Later, Rongen tried to understand the decision.

"There's one rule that if there's a substitution and it's one goal either way or tied the clock will be stopped or it's up to the head referee," he said. "This was a fifth official in charge of shootouts that stopped the clock. It never ceases to amaze me that athletes are not in control of their own destiny, which they really should be."

United was playing without its chief playmaker, midfielder Marco Etcheverry, and forward Jaime Moreno. Etcheverry left earlier in the week to join the Bolivian national team and was replaced in the starting lineup by Antonio Otero. Moreno, also headed for national team duty with Bolivia, sprained his ankle in Wednesday's 3-0 loss at Dallas. But defender Carlos Llamosa, who had been nursing a sprained right ankle, was able to start.

In the first half, United found itself outshot and outscored. D.C. had a goal disallowed when forward Roy Lassiter was ruled offside after tipping the ball past Galaxy goalkeeper Kevin Hartman, who has played every minute for Los Angeles this season.

As has been the story recently for United, the team was peppered with flying elbows, knees and leg whips. In the 22nd minute, Cienfuegos broke away from United's defense and fired a shot at Presthus from about 10 feet away. Presthus, leaning to his left, blocked Cienfuegos's attempt but the rebound bounced to Galaxy forward Carlos Hermosillo, who found himself uncovered, and was able to tap it in.

United was able to put more pressure on Hartman in the second half, and early on he was able to aggressively turn away each attempt. In the 30th minute, Lassiter, whose 12 goals and 29 points lead MLS, broke free in front of the Galaxy defense but tipped the cross pass wide to the left. Later, A.J. Wood's header went wide of the goal.

All that changed in the 83th minute, when United forward Ben Olsen's corner kick curved and met Brian Kamler, who had sliced in front of Hartman. Kamler headed it high to tie the match. The goal was Kamler's first of the season.

Later, Los Angeles forward Cobi Jones raced toward a loose ball. Presthus left the goal to challenge him, and Jones was able to beat the diving goalie to the ball. But as soon as Jones could fire, United defender Jeff Agoos stopped Jones's shot three feet short of the goal. Moments later, Hartman stopped a point-blank shot by United forward David Hayes.

D.C. United011Los Angeles112

SCORING -- DC: Kamler (Olsen) 83rd minute; LA: Hermosillo (Cienfuigos) 22nd, Cienfuegos 90th.

LINEUPS -- DC: Presthus, Kamler, Llamosa, Agoos, Sonora, Aunger, Williams (Hayes 77th), Moore (Wood 65th), Otero, Olsen, Lassiter; LA: Hartman, Hendrickson, Jolley, Fraser, Vanney, Elliott, Pena, Cienfuegos, Myers (Mathis 65th), Jones, Hermosillo (George 72nd).

CAPTION: United's Ben Olsen, left, who set up D.C.'s first goal by Brian Kamler, gets head on this ball in front of Robin Fraser.(Photo ran in an earlier edition)

CAPTION: Galaxy's Roy Myers trips over United's Brian Kamler, who scored D.C.'s lone goal in 83rd minute. United, playing without midfielder Marco Etcheverry and forward Jaime Moreno, dropped to 10-5.