D.C. United Coach Thomas Rongen had pointed to yesterday's practice as a pivotal point in defender Carlos Llamosa's month-long comeback from a sprained knee ligament. Llamosa participated fully and continued to make strides, but Rongen said that unless there is "tremendous progress" today, he doesn't expect him to be ready for Game 1 of Major League Soccer's Eastern Conference finals Sunday at RFK Stadium.

If that's the case, Carey Talley would start in central defense alongside Eddie Pope. United already is without defensive midfielder Richie Williams, who is serving a one-game suspension for receiving a red card last week.

"Carlos hasn't improved as rapidly as we had hoped," Rongen said, "so at this point, I don't think we want to take a gamble. We know we have someone quite capable of filling in that position."

Llamosa, who missed several regular season games with leg injuries, remains cautiously optimistic.

"I think I'm still questionable for Sunday," he said. "I feel pretty good, but it still hurts a little when I kick the ball long."

He also has had limited work slide tackling, which is a crucial art for a central defender. "I haven't done much tackling, but I'm pushing hard every day," Llamosa said. "I hope I will feel better tomorrow and on Sunday."

Llamosa was injured during United's regular season finale Oct. 9 against New England, and did not play in the first-round playoff series against Miami.

Meanwhile, midfielder Ben Olsen (hamstring) and forward Jaime Moreno (knee) practiced yesterday and appear ready to start Sunday, but reserve defender Clint Peay aggravated a calf injury that had required surgery and is out.

Milutinovic Moves On

Bora Milutinovic resigned yesterday as coach of the New York/New Jersey MetroStars, who finished with a 7-25 record and 15 points in the standings -- the lowest total in MLS history. Assistant Fernando Clavijo, a former U.S. national team player, was named interim coach and will be considered for the full-time position, the club announced.

Milutinovic, who has coached in a record-tying four World Cups, is expected to pursue a national team coaching job in Latin America, perhaps Costa Rica's. . . .

Three former MLS coaches have emerged as candidates for the vacant New England coaching job: Timo Liekoski, who guided Columbus in 1996; John Kowalski, who coached Tampa Bay in 1997 and '98; and Octavio Zambrano, who was fired by Los Angeles early this season. Among the college coaches mentioned as possible candidates are Maryland's Sasho Cirovski and Clemson's Trevor Adair.

The (Changing) Name Game

San Jose officially changed its nickname from Clash to Earthquakes, which was the moniker of the North American Soccer League team there about 20 years ago. The Miami Fusion, which plays in nearby Fort Lauderdale, Fla., is expected to become the Florida or South Florida Fusion during the offseason. . . .

Tim Weyland, from Berkeley, Calif., was assigned as head referee for MLS Cup '99 at Foxboro (Mass.) Stadium. His linesmen will be Nathan Clement and Craig Lowry, both of whom will work the lines at RFK Sunday.

Meantime, MLS is looking at Oct. 1 as the new date for MLS Cup 2000, three weeks earlier than previously announced. Washington and Tampa Bay are the finalists to hold the event. . . .

As part of the club's "Blackout" promotion, United is asking fans planning to attend Sunday's game to wear black clothing.