D.C. United's Jaime Moreno didn't practice all week and didn't play in Wednesday's friendly against Guatemalan club Municipal because of a left hamstring injury. So it's probably safe to assume that he won't be in uniform tonight against the New York/New Jersey MetroStars at Giants Stadium.

But then again . . .

"He's doing much better," United technical director Dave Kasper said without further comment while watching a Moreno-less United go through a light workout at RFK Stadium's training grounds yesterday. "He's made very good progress this week."

Kasper and other club officials declined to say whether Moreno was traveling with the team, an attempt to keep the arch-rival MetroStars in the dark for as long as possible. But considering the Bolivian forward's inactivity since departing in the first half at Columbus last weekend, it appears unlikely that he'll play tonight.

Moreno's absence would leave United without its two biggest scoring threats for its final regular season road game. Besides Moreno, who is third in MLS in points with 27 on seven goals and 13 assists, Alecko Eskandarian (10 goals, two assists) must serve a one-game suspension for accumulating yellow cards.

All-star defender Ryan Nelsen also is out following his ejection from last Saturday's 1-0 loss to the Crew.

While it's pretty clear that Ezra Hendrickson will replace Nelsen in central defense, Coach Peter Nowak is weighing his options for frontline assignments. Teenager Freddy Adu could return to the starting lineup after serving as a second-half substitute the past few weeks, but Nowak could call on Santino Quaranta and Jason Thompson, a pair of seldom-used forwards who combined for three goals and two assists in the 6-0 rout of Municipal.

"It's good to have these kind of options when twenty-something players are healthy and ready to go," Nowak said. "Against Municipal, [the reserves] showed they can connect very well together, they scored a couple of goals, they fed each other with the ball."

United (8-10-9) would clinch a playoff berth with a victory against the MetroStars (11-10-6) and a loss or tie by last-place New England, which is hosting Dallas. D.C. would also seal a berth if it earned a tie and the Revolution lost.

But United will have to reverse its fortunes on the road, where the club is a league-worst 1-8-5 and hasn't won since late May at New England. Nowak was pleased with his team's short-handed performance at Columbus following Nelsen's ejection, but United still wasn't able to score the equalizer. The team has scored just 11 goals on the road, and two of them were own goals.

The club is encouraged by the return of Quaranta, who has only been available for a pair of exhibitions this season because of a groin-abdominal injury. On Wednesday, both of his goals were superbly struck and his unselfishness with the ball on the run set up Thompson's easy goal.

"On the road -- let's be honest -- we haven't been good at all," said Quaranta, who is still working on his fitness level after the long layoff. "I'd like to really help the team, whatever I have to do whether it's getting in on a tackle, whether it's scoring or having an assist. I don't have extra pressure, but I should be the one who steps up a little bit. It's a big game for us."

United Notes: Nowak will continue to start Nick Rimando over Troy Perkins in goal. "It's a fair competition," he explained, "but at the moment Nicky has a good stretch and we're going to stick with it." . . .

Forward Dante Washington continues to participate in workouts, but he can't officially join the club until United settles his MLS rights with Columbus, his previous team. . . .

Hendrickson will rejoin the St. Vincent and the Grenadines national team tomorrow for Wednesday's World Cup qualifier at Mexico.