United 0, Rapids 0

D.C. United had hoped a return to RFK Stadium after 31/2 weeks would reenergize the faltering club and the arrival of all-star defender Ryan Nelsen would stabilize a faulty defense.

United's defensive effort, particularly by Nelsen and rookie goalkeeper Troy Perkins, was back at a respectable level last night against the punchless Colorado Rapids, but the attack continued to sputter and the sluggish match ended in a 0-0 tie before 21,742 disappointed spectators.

United (3-5-4) has gone 265 minutes without a goal and has scored only twice (one on an own goal) in the last four matches. The Rapids, winless on the road and averaging 0.6 goals per game overall, were happy to escape with a tie after enduring United's pressure throughout the evening.

"It's unbelievable, we dominate so much, it's crazy," midfielder Dema Kovalenko said. "We're just waiting for that breakout game -- not one, not two, not three, maybe four goals."

United's effort and teamwork was a vast improvement over last weekend's 3-0 loss at Chicago, but the lack of scoring (and the absence of an inventive force in central midfield) continues to confound first-year coach Peter Nowak.

"What can I say? They did everything they can to win this game," he said about his team after it built huge advantages in shots (21-8) and corner kicks (13-3). "You cannot say a word about the effort, you cannot say a word about commitment, about how they reacted after last week's game. . . . Chances, of course, you have to finish them. We try everything we can. We try from inside, from outside, we shot from the second line."

Freddy Adu, United's 15-year-old forward, came off the bench and played the final 26 minutes but couldn't shake the club out of its offensive funk. Desperate in the closing minutes, D.C. caused disruptions in the penalty area but saw attempts hit the side-netting and deflect wide and high of the target.

"We took a lot of pressure," Colorado Coach Tim Hankinson said of his 2-2-5 club. "We've prided this team on good defending and D.C. tested it. We survived the game."

Nowak's starting lineup continued to undergo changes. Bobby Convey was away with the U.S. national team, but Earnie Stewart came back on short notice. Nelsen returned from New Zealand's World Cup qualifying duty, but Bryan Namoff (abdominal strain) had to sit out for the second straight week.

Jaime Moreno returned after missing two matches because of an injury, but instead of replacing slumping Ronald Cerritos on the frontline, he took the place of Adu, who had made three consecutive starts. Rookie Josh Gros was starting again after serving as a reserve last week and Ben Olsen also got the nod despite a strained knee tendon that had jeopardized his availability.

Colorado, which lost to Kansas City on Wednesday night to end its 16-game home unbeaten streak, had its own problems. Leading scorer Jean Philippe Peguero is with Haiti's national team, defenders Pablo Mastroeni and Nat Borchers are suspended and veteran midfielder Mark Chung skipped the trip because of injury.

Nelsen lasted only a half as his abdominal strain caused him discomfort. "Ryan did what he can," Nowak said. "He pushed himself to the limit."

United was controlling possession, as it often does, but had trouble unlocking Colorado's short-handed defense around the penalty area. Meantime, Perkins was tested for the first time in the 30th minute, falling to his left to stop Kyle Beckerman's 16-yard effort.

United continued to pile up corner kicks, but Rapids goalkeeper Joe Cannon wasn't seriously threatened. He did, however, have to make a leaping punch save on Cerritos's header, set up beautifully by Moreno, in the 42nd minute.

Perkins came to United's rescue on the last sequence of the first half, making a sensational slap save on the goal line following a corner kick.

Neither team was creating much early in the second half, so Nowak sent on Adu for Cerritos, a move that energized the crowd if not the attack.

"You keep thinking one's going to go in," Perkins said, "but it's not happening."

United Notes: Efforts to finalize Ghanaian midfielder Nana Kuffour's international clearance hit another snag this past week and club officials aren't sure when it will be resolved. . . .

Colorado's Rey Angel Martinez, who defected from Cuba two years ago, made his MLS debut in the second half.

United's Earnie Stewart, playing on short notice, starts to maneuver around Rapids' Matt Crawford, front.