WHEN: Today, 1:30 p.m., Foxboro, Mass.
TV/Radio: WJLA-7; WMAR-2; WACA-1540 (Spanish)
PREVIOUS TITLE GAMES
D.C. United 3
L.A. Galaxy 2 (OT)
Where: Foxboro (Mass.) Stadium.
On a cold and rainy day, United won the inaugural title after scoring twice in the final 17 minutes of regulation to overcome a two-goal deficit and force sudden-death overtime. Four minutes into the extra period, Eddie Pope headed in Marco Etcheverry's corner kick at the near post. Etcheverry assisted on all three goals. Reserves Tony Sanneh and Shawn Medved also scored for United.
D.C. United 2
Colorado Rapids 1
Where: RFK Stadium.
On another soggy afternoon, United dominated most of the match before a sellout crowd, but poor finishing in the first half allowed the Rapids to stay close deep into the match. Jaime Moreno scored in the first half and Tony Sanneh connected in the second before Adrian Paz cut the deficit to 2-1 late in the game. United had to survive heavy pressure in the final minutes to cap a 5-0 postseason.
Chicago Fire 2
D.C. United 0
Where: Rose Bowl, Pasadena, Calif.
United was shut out for only the second time that year, and the expansion Fire got goals from Jerzy Podbrozny in the 29th minute and Diego Gutierrez just before halftime. D.C. had some early chances, including Jaime Moreno's miss on a clear shot from the top of the penalty area just seconds into the match, and Chicago's Zach Thornton made some impressive saves as the match progressed.
June 19 at RFK Stadium
Playing without injured D Eddie Pope, and MF Marco Etcheverry and F Jaime Moreno (both were with the Bolivian national team), United tied the game on Brian Kamler's goal in the 83rd minute. But with six seconds left, United was called for a foul at the top of its penalty area. The referee stopped the clock to allow the Galaxy time to take the shot -- a decision MLS officials later said was a mistake. Mauricio Cienfuegos bent the ball over the wall and inside the near post.
Sept. 25 at the Rose Bowl
United was short-handed again, this time primarily by choice. Having already clinched the Eastern Conference regular season title, Coach Thomas Rongen held out seven starters against the full-strength Galaxy. A.J. Wood and Clint Peay scored to increase United's club-record winning streak to 11 games.
IN CASE OF A TIE
If today's game is tied at the end of regulation, it will be extended for up to two 15-minute sudden-death overtime periods. If neither team scores, the winner will be determined by a shootout -- the controversial procedure that will be eliminated, beginning next season. In a shootout, five players from each team alternate attempts by going one-on-one with the goalkeeper, similar to hockey's penalty shot. The starting point is 35 yards from the net and the player has five seconds to shoot. If the score is tied after five shooters per team, an extra round is added until there is a winner. The shootout success rate is about 44 percent.
During this past regular season, games tied at the end of regulation went directly to a shootout. Next year, regular season games that are tied after regulation will be followed by 10 minutes of sudden-death overtime; if no one scores in the overtime period, the game will be declared a tie.
-- Steven Goff
TODAY'S KEY MATCHUPS
L.A.'s Alignment vs. D.C.'s Defense
The Galaxy does not play in a traditional formation, which means United might get caught in some unfavorable defensive matchups. Los Angeles' fleet-footed Cobi Jones lines up as a forward, but often strays to the right side, where he could cause problems for United left back Jeff Agoos. To compound matters, Galaxy right back Ezra Hendrickson is given the freedom to charge forward and provide an extra dimension to the attack on that side. If United central defender Carlos Llamosa is forced to shift over to help Agoos, that could leave more space for Los Angeles striker Carlos Hermosillo in the middle.
L.A. MF Danny Pena vs. United MF Marco Etcheverry
Pena is a rugged defensive midfielder whose chief responsibility will be to control the multidimensional Etcheverry. If he is able to interfere with Etcheverry's ability to distribute the ball or limit the number of times Etcheverry even gets the ball, United probably will have trouble creating scoring opportunities. But if United's captain has time and space, the Galaxy's defense, led by MLS defender of the year Robin Fraser, may be stretched by Etcheverry's precise passes into the penalty area for high-scoring forwards Jaime Moreno and Roy Lassiter.
The Starting Goalkeepers vs. Big-Game Pressure
Los Angeles' Kevin Hartman was named MLS goalkeeper of the year and his D.C. counterpart, Tom Presthus, has spent time in the U.S. national team training camp. Both have played almost all of their team's games, both have superb instincts and both have made acrobatic saves that have won more than a few games. But with a championship at stake, the game could be decided by which goalkeeper takes command in a tight match. This is, by far, the biggest game of Hartman's MLS career, while Presthus wants to make up for his shaky effort at the CONCACAF Champions Cup in Las Vegas, where United was eliminated in the semifinals.
-- Steven Goff