The crowds flocked to the Meadowlands tonight, packed four to a vehicle, enduring severe thunderstorms, horns honking as traffic backed up to the toll plaza off the New Jersey Turnpike.
A big turnout for the D.C. United-MetroStars match at Giants Stadium? Hardly. Next door at Continental Airlines Arena, Bruce Springsteen was playing one of his 15 consecutive sellouts.
While Springsteen rocked a full house, United showed who was boss with a 4-1 victory over New York/New Jersey before a crowd that numbered about 1,500 at kickoff and at the end was announced as a franchise-low 6,876.
Carey Talley, Jaime Moreno, Ben Olsen and A.J. Wood scored for United (15-7, 37 points), which overcame an early deficit and stretched its Eastern Conference lead to five points over the Columbus Crew, Saturday's opponent at RFK Stadium.
"Not the prettiest of displays," United Coach Thomas Rongen said. "We needed three points [for a win in regulation], and that's what we got. . . . I'm glad we can go home now."
This was a predictably lopsided match in the middle of Major League Soccer's seemingly endless regular season. The MetroStars (5-16, nine points), who have struggled miserably, are on their way to setting every league record for futility.
Things have gotten so bad, the club had to call up four minor leaguers to fill out its injury-riddled roster this week -- and two of them actually played this afternoon for the A-League's Long Island Rough Riders. They were removed in the second half of that early game so they could get here in time to suit up for the MetroStars.
Not all went wrong, though. In the ninth minute, recent Yugoslav import Sasa Curcic slammed in a penalty kick after Eddie Pope's foul to give New York/New Jersey the lead and snap its league-record scoreless streak at 375 minutes.
Talley tied the game with a soaring header off Marco Etcheverry's delicate free kick in the 21st minute for his fourth goal of the year.
The turning point then came with a kiss. Yes, a kiss, planted on the ball by MetroStars defender Mike Petke after getting called for a foul at the top of the penalty area.
Referee Michael Kennedy wasn't amused by the smooch, applied just before Petke handed him the ball. Out came the yellow card -- Petke's second -- and out of the game went Petke. On his way to the tunnel, he tore off his jersey, turned toward Kennedy, kissed the shirt, then tossed it into the stands.
"I didn't know what to say to him, so I kissed the ball," Petke said. As for the jersey he tossed to the fan, he added: "I'm surprised they were even here watching."
With the MetroStars down to 10 players, it took only seven minutes for United to take the lead, and Moreno provided it with a dazzling shot. After Chris Albright's header was kicked away by goalkeeper Mike Ammann, Etcheverry sent a 20-yard shot toward goal. About eight yards from the net and facing Etcheverry, Moreno redirected the ball with the inside of his right foot as it passed between his legs and sent it by the startled Ammann.
"Just lucky," Moreno said.
United's inefficiency kept the MetroStars in the match until the 71st minute when Olsen, who yielded his starting spot to Albright before entering in the 59th minute, drilled a 22-yard shot into the lower right corner. Four minutes later, Wood volleyed in Talley's pretty cross for his fifth goal in the last six games.
"We knew we had to get that third goal," defender Jeff Agoos said. "Once we got it, everything collapsed for them."