Edson Buddle's goal early in the second half gave the Columbus Crew a 1-0 victory over the host Chicago Fire last night -- a result that clinched an MLS playoff berth for D.C. United.

The first-place Crew (12-5-11) stretched its unbeaten streak to a league-record 16 games and clinched the top seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs. Buddle's goal, his 11th of the season, came in the 60th minute on 25-yard shot to the far upper corner. Chicago (8-12-9) or New England (7-12-9) will claim the final Eastern playoff spot. . . .

Forward Jaime Moreno, who leads United (9-10-9) in points, has returned to practice and might be available for Saturday's home match against New England, club officials said. Moreno missed last weekend's game at New York/New Jersey with a hamstring injury.

However, defender Ezra Hendrickson will miss the match while playing for the St. Vincent and Grenadines national team over the next week. Last night, St. Vincent lost at Mexico, 7-0, in a World Cup qualifier as Jared Borgetti scored four goals.

* MLS: John Ellinger, a Laurel native who oversaw Freddy Adu's development with the U.S. under-17 national program, was named coach of the MLS expansion team in Salt Lake City. Ellinger, 53, has coached the under-17 squad for the past seven years. He began his coaching career at Montgomery College-Rockville in 1979 and guided Maryland-Baltimore County for 10 years. He also briefly coached the Washington Diplomats of the American Soccer League in 1990.

"I am excited for the opportunity to build this organization's competitive side from scratch," Ellinger said at a news conference in Utah yesterday.

The Salt Lake City team will unveil its nickname and logo at a ceremony Saturday. The other expansion team, to be based in Los Angeles, recently hired former United coach Thomas Rongen as its head coach.

* NATIONAL TEAM: The U.S. squad, which is preparing for World Cup qualifiers at El Salvador on Saturday and against Panama on Wednesday at RFK Stadium, defeated Georgetown, 5-0, in a 60-minute closed scrimmage. The Americans will resume training at American University today before flying to San Salvador tonight.

-- Steven Goff