United 3, Rapids 1

D.C. United is on the verge of adding two midfielders to its sickly roster, but perhaps the answer to its perilous summer is a newfound role for Freddy Adu.

In a rare central midfield appearance last night, the 15-year-old rookie orchestrated United's goal-starved attack, put his team ahead with a mature finish in the first half and gave the most well-rounded effort of his closely scrutinized season to help subdue the Colorado Rapids, 3-1, before 10,848 at RFK Stadium.

It came at a more desperately needed time. United (6-8-6) had scored only two goals during a four-game winless streak and was in danger of slipping into last place in MLS's woeful Eastern Conference. But Adu, who had played almost exclusively at forward, stepped into the vital attacking midfield role and contributed to United's dismantling of the league's top defensive team.

"I was very, very, very, very comfortable in that role," said a beaming Adu, whose goal in the 35th minute was his third of the season but first in almost three months. "Everything has been building up to this point, in my opinion. I felt like every time I came into the game in the past couple of weeks I had made somewhat of a difference. I just had to keep that intensity and keep it going."

Adu, who has been floating in and out of the starting lineup all year, played all 90 minutes for only the second time in regular season play. His goal was set up perfectly by fellow rookie Josh Gros, who delivered a diagonal ball from the left side to the darting Adu, who calmly one-timed a 12-yard shot past goalkeeper Joe Cannon.

Five minutes later, Alecko Eskandarian bounced a pass across the box to the unmarked Earnie Stewart, who rocketed a 12-yard shot into the far corner for his second goal of the year. In its previous 20 matches, Colorado had allowed only four goals in the first half.

The Rapids' bumbling play sealed the outcome in the 64th minute when United's Jaime Moreno pushed the ball between midfielder Joe DiGiamarino's legs and then sent the cross off defender Ritchie Kotschau's foot and into the net for an own goal.

United's makeshift back line of Mike Petke, Ezra Hendrickson and Brandon Prideaux yielded few opportunities to the Rapids (6-7-8), the lowest-scoring team in the league, until John Spencer's strike in the 73rd minute. Goalkeeper Troy Perkins survived a pair of late scares to secure the victory, United's first since a 6-2 rout of the first-place New York/New Jersey MetroStars on July 3.

The most pleasant development, however, was Adu in midfield.

"The last three weeks proved to me, proved to all of us, that he deserves to be on the field," said Coach Peter Nowak, who inserted Adu into the starting lineup in place of defensive midfielder Brian Carroll, who had played every minute of every game this season. "Players start to trust him and he starts to trust the players. Today was great. Again he shows he belongs to this league and he belongs to this team, and the future is bright."

Added midfielder Ben Olsen: "I've been excited to see him in that position for some time now and I thought he did well. They gave him some time with the ball and you can't do that with a player like him. . . . I think he's figuring this thing out now."

Whether Adu remains in this midfield role is in question. Before the game, United officials acknowledged that they've made significant progress toward acquiring an experienced central midfielder and, "if all goes well, we hope to have him in town by this weekend," team president Kevin Payne said.

Payne, who won't identify the player or his nationality until the deal is completed, added that no complications have emerged and the team hopes to receive a signed contract today or tomorrow. Sources close to the team said the player is from Argentina. He wouldn't be eligible to officially join the roster until the international transfer window for MLS opens Sunday.

Outside midfielder Tim Lawson, who's been playing in Germany, also is expected to join the club next week.

While the team awaits reinforcements, United remained in a precarious situation last night with several roster holes. It played without all-star defender Ryan Nelsen (hernia) for the third straight game and outside back Bryan Namoff (suspension). Colorado also had personnel issues, arriving without several injured regulars, including leading scorer Jean Philippe Peguero and standout defender Pablo Mastroeni.

* REVOLUTION 3, BURN 0: Pat Noonan and Andy Dorman each had a goal and an assist to lead New England to the road victory.

The Revolution (5-8-7) ended a four-game winless streak while the Burn (7-8-5) has managed just one goal in its last three games.

* FIRE 2, EARTHQUAKES 1: Damani Ralph scored on a rebound in the 81st minute to lift host Chicago past San Jose in a battle of last-place teams.

The victory ended the Fire's nine-game winless streak, the worst in franchise history (0-6-3).

Chicago (5-8-7), which last won on June 5, is in last place in the Eastern Conference.

San Jose (6-7-6) sits at the bottom of the Western Conference.

United's Freddy Adu is "very, very, very, very comfortable" in a rare central midfield appearance.