There wasn't much captivating or entertaining about D.C. United's 1-0 shootout victory that eliminated the Miami Fusion from the Major League Soccer playoffs today.
The closest United came to putting something in the net was when Carey Talley one-timed a toy rubber chicken that had been flung from the stands. D.C. didn't register a shot in the final 35 minutes, and when the game reached the late stages, United slowed to a crawl and played for a tie, which in MLS means playing for a shootout.
"We're extremely fortunate and happy that we got away with a victory," United Coach Thomas Rongen said. "Sometimes you've got to win games like this."
Said forward Jaime Moreno: "I don't think we played nice soccer."
Despite its unattractiveness, United (25-9) swept the best-of-three first-round series from the Fusion (13-21) and advanced to play the Columbus Crew in the Eastern Conference final, which will start either Saturday or Sunday at RFK Stadium. In Game 1, United will be without midfielder Richie Williams, who, along with Miami's Henry Gutierrez, was ejected in the 35th minute (and suspended for the next match) after a midfield scuffle.
If United had a hero today, goalkeeper Tom Presthus was it. He made two sterling saves in regulation and stopped four of Miami's six shots in the shootout, which United won by a 3-2 margin. After Roy Lassiter's goal pushed D.C. ahead in the sixth round of the tiebreaker, Presthus stopped Tyrone Marshall's bid with his right leg to end the match and the Fusion's season. "I wasn't going to give up a goal today," Presthus said, "and I didn't expect us to score the way things were going. I was really expecting [the shootout] the entire second half."
Presthus's best stops came in the 27th minute, when he dived to his left to slap away Welton's clear shot, and in the 83rd, when he made a leg save on Eric Wynalda's effort following a nifty combination between Wynalda and reserve Nelson Vargas.
United was fortunate that when Miami did push the ball past Presthus, it missed the target. The Fusion had three unimpeded shots sail high or spin wide of the net.
"We controlled the game, we had the chances, we did everything," said Coach Ivo Wortmann, whose second-year club lost to United in the first round last season, also culminating with a shootout loss after a scoreless regulation.
Things got messy late in the first half today when Miami's Pablo Mastroeni was given a yellow card for a hard tackle on Lassiter 40 yards from the goal. A scuffle ensued, and in the confusion, Wynalda intentionally kicked Williams in the back of the leg. When Williams retaliated, Gutierrez went after him. While Wynalda slyly stepped away, the other two players were ejected by referee Ricardo Valenzuela.
"It was just pushing and shoving, it shouldn't have been a red card," Williams said. "Maybe that was [Valenzuela's] way of putting his stamp on the game."
As he was being escorted to the locker room, Williams was pelted with debris by a group of fans. He reached down and tossed a plastic water bottle into the stands before reaching safety.
When the game resumed, United's play continued to deteriorate after a promising start and never recovered. But after winning the series opener last weekend, Rongen said the pressure was on Miami to win the game in regulation. United, he figured, could take its chances in a shootout.
"We didn't have many good chances to score, but sometimes the game goes this way," Moreno said. "We came to win, and we did. For that, we are happy."
Note: The league will announce the dates and times of the best-of-three Eastern Conference final Monday.