D.C. United endured a severe thunderstorm and the Columbus Crew's late commotion yesterday for a 2-1 victory at waterlogged RFK Stadium.

But it couldn't escape injuries to three starters, two of whom could be sidelined for some time.

Goalkeeper Tom Presthus sprained the medial collateral ligament in his left knee during a first-half collision with Brian West and left the game a few minutes later.

Presthus also showed some signs of cartilage damage, trainer Rick Guter said, and will be examined further today.

Defender Eddie Pope, who missed nearly two months with a broken foot, badly bruised a toe on his right foot and will have X-rays to determine if it is fractured. And defender-midfielder Diego Sonora left just nine minutes into the game after aggravating a strained groin muscle. He is day-to-day.

The troubling injury report came on a wild day in which United (16-7, 40 points) won its fourth straight, extended its Eastern Conference lead over the Crew (14-8) to eight points and left Columbus winless in 11 games in Washington.

The win gave United a sweep of the four-game season series between the teams.

"It was a day of the gods," United defender Jeff Agoos said. "It was hot, humid, rain. The only thing we were missing today was snow."

The game, played before 15,312 drenched spectators, did include a tense finish that left United relieved and the Crew steamed at referee Brian Hall.

Jaime Moreno's penalty kick gave United a 2-1 lead early in the second half, but Columbus had several opportunities to tie it.

Mark Simpson, who replaced Presthus in the 35th minute, made consecutive saves on Brian Maisonneuve and Columbus's Stern John missed a clear shot from 12 yards.

Then in the 84th minute, John's short header slipped past Simpson and into the right corner of the net, but Hall ruled that John had nudged Agoos as both were jumping, and disallowed the goal.

"There was only one element of the game that was missing," Crew Coach Tom Fitzgerald said in loose reference to the officiating.

"What I saw was two guys challenge for the ball. . . . I don't think at this stage of our league we can take goals away that are good goals."

Responded Agoos: "I thought it was a foul, but you don't usually get those calls. [Hall] got it right."

That wasn't the end of Simpson's adventure.

With a little more than a minute remaining, a loose ball bounced off bodies near the left post and shots took strange turns in the muck before being cleared from danger.

"The whole game was a little crazy," said Simpson, who made his third appearance of the year. "But we've been through this before, and we held things together."

United got off to a good start. About 10 minutes after the rain turned the field into a bog, United took the lead when John Maessner redirected Ben Olsen's 20-yard shot past goalkeeper Mark Dougherty.

"I just happened to be in the way," Maessner said.

Columbus took immediate advantage of the improving conditions in the second half, with Jeff Cunningham tying the game on a nifty give-and-go with Brian McBride after just 67 seconds. A quick exchange left the Jamaican forward free in the box for a simple shot into the lower left corner past Simpson.

But United regained the lead in the 58th minute after Jason Farrell was called for tripping Marco Etcheverry from behind deep in the box.

Television replays showed Farrell made only minimal contact. Moreno converted the penalty kick into the lower right corner for his seventh goal of the year.

"We hung on to dear life at the end," United Coach Thomas Rongen said. "But all good teams are able to sustain some pressure and get the ball bouncing their way.

"It happened today."

United Notes: This was the first game at RFK since a fan was stabbed twice in the stands during the second half last Sunday. No problems were reported yesterday. . . . On the collision with Presthus, West, who is from Columbia, bruised his knee and will be reexamined today. . . .

D.C. plays its next two matches against the Miami Fusion: Saturday night in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and Aug. 25 at RFK.

GALAXY 2, BURN 0: Ezra Hendrickson scored in the first half and Los Angeles benefited from a Dallas own goal in the second half to win at home. Galaxy goalie Kevin Hartman made six saves for his eighth shutout of the season.

WIZARDS 2, METROSTARS 1: Alex Bunbury's goal in the 71st minute helped Kansas City send host New York/New Jersey to its seventh straight loss. The MetroStars have the MLS's worst record (5-17) and for the second straight game scored first only to lose a player to a red card in the first half. Sasa Curcic was the player who scored and was later ejected.

FUSION 2, FIRE 1: In Chicago, Brazilian midfielder Welton scored in the second half and again in the shootout to lift Miami. The Fusion won the shootout 3-0 as goalie Garth Lagerwey stopped three straight kicks.