D.C. United played a team tonight that had lost nine of 10 games earlier this season, lost its top scorer to a knee injury three weeks ago and finished the game with nine men on the field. Yet United blew a lead to the Miami Fusion in the final 30 minutes and had to settle for a 3-2 shootout win at Lockhart Staduim.

United won the shootout 2-0 with goalkeeper Mark Simpson making two saves. One of the saves came on Tony Kuhn's penalty kick, awarded when Simpson fouled Kuhn on his way to the goal. Defender Eddie Pope also came through in the end for United, making up for an embarrassing moment on defense with an acrobatic, game-tying goal in the 86th minute.

"You've got to be disappointed you didn't end up with three points after a game like this," United Coach Thomas Rongen said. "We're not happy with the way we played."

United (17-7, 41 points) created many more chances than the Fusion (10-14, 22), with 14 shots on goal to Miami's four. Part of the reason was Fusion defender Leo Cullen's ejection in the ninth minute. In all, referee Rich Grady issued 10 cards -- including an MLS-record four red.

Cullen (Maryland) was ejected for a tackle from behind on United forward Roy Lassiter. Fusion midfielder Nelson Vargas was ejected right after that, on his way off the field after he had been substituted.

Lassiter and Miami midfielder Jay Heaps were ejected within a two-minute span in the second half.

"That was in the top five" for odd games, Simpson said. "The game got chippy and [Grady] did his best to keep it on a level pace. [The referees] are instructed to punish blatant tackles from behind and if you go to the replays, that's what you'll see."

Lassiter, meanwhile, said if he were a referee, he wouldn't have issued any of the four red cards -- including Cullen's.

"I think the referee ended up being the main attraction," he said. "I don't think the game was as violent as four red cards. [Grady] lost control from Minute One."

After a scoreless first half, Lassiter scored in the 61st minute, converting a cross from midfielder Ben Olsen with one touch of his right foot. Marco Etcheverry had threaded a pass to Olsen, who volleyed the cross to Lassiter in a lightning-quick sequence. The Fusion equalized five minutes later, when Tyrone Marshall fired a 28-yard shot from the left side past a screened Simpson and into the lower left corner.

Welton then gave the Fusion a 2-1 lead in the 69th minute, scoring his fifth goal in 13 games since being traded from the Los Angeles Galaxy. He took a long pass from Pablo Mastroeni into the right side of the penalty area, fooled Pope with a cut inside and shot past Simpson as Pope fell to the turf.

Pope's goal came with D.C. playing with 10 men (to Miami's nine). Etcheverry crossed the ball waist-high into the penalty area and Pope volleyed the ball past goalkeeper Garth Lagerwey into the left side of the net.

The Fusion still has won six of its last eight games. The streak comes directly on the heels of its 9-of-10 losing streak. Even with leading scorer Diego Serna (10 goals, 2 assists) out with a medial collateral ligament tear in his right knee, Miami is playing better than it was when it last played D.C. (a 3-1 loss at RFK Stadium).

"We showed D.C. today that we are a different team from the one that started the season, a team that wants to get to the playoffs," Fusion Coach Ivo Wortmann said. "We did a great job with a man down the whole game."

United, meanwhile, could see its six-point lead on second-place Columbus halved Sunday, when the Crew hosts Tampa Bay. And United will get another shot at the Fusion Wednesday at RFK -- in what figures to be a more conventional game.

"It's interesting when people get red cards," Olsen said. "It changes the game of soccer."

United Notes: Five of United's young players -- Chris Albright, Jason Moore, Antonio Otero, Judah Cooks and David Hayes did not travel to Miami and instead played for MLS's Project-40 team against the A-League's Milwaukee Rampage tonight. The quintet played for the developmental team Wednesday against the Minnesota Thunder, also of the A-League. Hayes had an assist in Wednesday's 4-1 loss.