D.C. United's quest for a fourth consecutive appearance in Major League Soccer's championship game has taken so long, it's not surprising that its players and coaches are getting a little impatient.
It has been nearly eight months since this season began. After a mostly enjoyable spring and summer and a testy start to the fall, United can advance to the final, Nov. 21 at Foxboro (Mass.) Stadium, by defeating the Columbus Crew today in Game 2 of the best-of-three Eastern Conference finals in Columbus, Ohio.
"It would be nice to be Monday now and to have gotten a win, but we still have a game to play and we know this series is far from over," defender Jeff Agoos said. "Columbus is even a better team with their backs to the wall, which is what they have to deal with now."
Then, using a well-known Spanish sports term commonly saved for longtime rivalries, Agoos smiled and said, "It should be a superclasico."
United isn't the slightest bit interested in having to play a decisive Game 3 next weekend in Washington against Columbus, which despite its inability to beat D.C. in any of the teams' five meetings this year, has posed consistent problems.
United played superbly in the first half of Game 1 of this series, but led only 1-0 at halftime and needed Ben Olsen's goal and a timely defensive stand in the closing minutes to prevail, 2-1.
"With the first game out of the way, we can go to Columbus with a lot of confidence," Coach Thomas Rongen said. "I just hope we're not too loose in a sense that we can still lose and have another game. You can interpret this looseness as, 'we're there, we're focused, we're having a little bit of fun.' I think this team knows the difference. But it's still a funny old game; you still have to play 90 minutes and it's not going to be easy."
United hasn't lost to the Crew since Game 2 of the 1998 conference finals, a 4-2 wipeout before D.C. won the series at home. United won both of its games at Columbus's new stadium this year, and actually thrived on the spacious field, which is a few yards wider than those at most MLS stadiums.
Rongen isn't expected to make any changes, other than re-inserting defensive midfielder Richie Williams, who was suspended for Game 1 because of a red card in the previous playoff match. Carey Talley will start again for central defender Carlos Llamosa, who remains sidelined with a sprained knee ligament.
Crew Coach Tom Fitzgerald is likely to make one significant move, starting Jamaican World Cup player Andy Williams in the playmaking position in midfield. Last week, with Columbus's midfield sputtering, Williams entered in the 63rd minute and energized the attack.
"He gives them a little more distribution, a little more creativity. He's a quality player," Agoos said. "The question is, will he last over 90 minutes? We know what he can do, we know what he's about. We just have to keep him in check more so than we did when he came into the game last week. He made them more dangerous."
United Notes: Ruben Morales, the agent for D.C. defender Diego Sonora, said yesterday Sonora probably will not return to MLS next season. "It's going to be very difficult to stay," said Morales, who spoke with league officials recently about a new contract. Morales said Sonora, a free agent when the playoffs end, likely will sign with an Argentine or Brazilian club.
Meanwhile, forward Roy Lassiter, who probably will be traded to Miami when the season ends, has reiterated his midsummer request for a new contract. His current deal, which pays him an estimated $125,000 per year, expires in two years.
"I want a better contract. I need a better contract," Lassiter said in a recent interview. "I'm not asking for the maximum [about $250,000], but I just think if you've got players like [former D.C. captain John] Harkes and [Miami forward Eric] Wynalda and other guys like that who are making a whole lot more money and producing less, then at least compensate me a little bit."
Game: at Columbus Crew.
Where: Columbus Crew Stadium.
When: 1 p.m.
Radio: WACA-1540 (Spanish).
United Probable Starters: GK -- Tom Presthus; D -- Diego Sonora, Carey Talley, Eddie Pope, Jeff Agoos; MF -- Richie Williams, John Maessner, Ben Olsen, Marco Etcheverry; F -- Jaime Moreno, Roy Lassiter.
Crew Probable Starters: GK -- Mark Dougherty; D -- Mike Clark, Todd Yeagley, Mike Lapper; MF -- John DeBrito, Robert Warzycha, Brian West, Jeff Cunningham, Andy Williams; F -- Stern John, Brian McBride.