United 2, Rapids 0

D.C. United was heading toward a 2-0 victory over the Colorado Rapids last night -- a complete performance highlighted by sensational second-half goals from Christian Gomez and Jaime Moreno before a season-best turnout at RFK Stadium -- when the head coaches and assistants began snapping at each other along the sideline.

In all, there were nine yellow cards, 42 fouls and several delays while bruised players were examined. But things really began to unravel with a few minutes left when United Coach Peter Nowak began angrily jabbing his index finger and shouting at the Rapids' Fernando Clavijo. Clavijo responded by crossing the midfield line and approaching the D.C. staff.

Order was soon restored by game officials and players, but in the locker rooms afterward, both coaches had plenty to say about the incident.

"Colorado planned today not to play soccer -- just disturb us," Nowak said. "If you're losing, you have to lose with class."

He also suggested that Clavijo had instructed his players to inflict injury and that Clavijo's sideline behavior was inappropriate for a professional setting.

Said Clavijo: "I think he's drinking too much caffeine. I have no idea where he's coming from. I was disappointed last game [between the teams two weeks ago in Denver] when I went to shake hands and he told me he had no time for me. I told the D.C. players tonight they played outstanding and they deserved to win. The rest of it, those questions are his."

Part of Nowak's frustration was rooted in Colorado's decision to play defensively, absorb United's relentless pressure and wait to counterattack. It took United (14-9-5) until the 65th minute to solve the Rapids' tactics and another 15 minutes to secure the victory and move within four points of first-place New England in the MLS Eastern Conference with a month left in the regular season.

"It's that time of the year when the intensity is raised," midfielder Ben Olsen said. "It happens every year, and I think we responded very well. We fought the battle and we also played some pretty good soccer in the meantime."

Gomez scored the first goal on a 22-yard free kick that bent inside the near post and off the hands of backup goalkeeper Byron Foss, who had entered six minutes earlier for Joe Cannon (groin injury). Foss was making his first regular season appearance in three years with the Rapids.

Later, Moreno sealed the outcome with an elegant cutback and perfectly placed shot to the far corner for his team-best 13th goal of the year, triggering a victory celebration from the crowd of 21,875.

Colorado (9-13-4) had beaten United in their first encounter but was little match for D.C. on its home field, where it averages nearly 21/2 goals per game. United instigated play from the very start and the Rapids, who despite a losing record have all but ensured a playoff berth in the weak Western Conference, seemed content to wait for an opening.

United's Jamil Walker nearly provided a lead in the fifth minute with a vicious angled volley that smacked off the crossbar. A minute later, the Rapids' calculated play nearly paid off when newly acquired Jovan Kirovski tested goalkeeper Nick Rimando with a header.

United picked up where it left off after intermission, but its inability to score created a nervous buzz among its supporters. The match took an odd turn when Cannon, one of the best keepers in MLS, left the game. Pity Foss, who soon had to face Gomez's well-placed free kick. The goalie reached up and got his hands on the ball, but let it slip past him for Gomez's 10th goal of the year.

In the 80th minute, a sharp exchange involving Santino Quaranta, Dema Kovalenko and Moreno left the Bolivian forward deep on the right side. He waited for a retreating defender to move past him, then measured an angled shot beyond Foss's reach.

"Overall, we played our best game of the season," Nowak said. "For 90 minutes, we pushed forward, we created chances one after another, and it was just a matter of time before we scored a goal. . . . They played like a team for 90 minutes."

United Notes: The club's newly signed Argentine forward is believed to be Lucio Alejo Filomeno, 25, who has played in Italy, Mexico and South Korea. United won't officially unveil his identity until the visa and international clearance process is completed, but he is expected to be available for the next MLS match, Oct. 1 against the MetroStars at Giants Stadium. . . .

Gomez received a yellow card midway through the second half, pushing him over the league limit and resulting in a one-game suspension.

United's Jaime Moreno (99) celebrates after scoring his team-best 13th goal of the season in the 80th minute, with Christian Gomez (10), Santino Quaranta.United's Santino Quaranta hurdles the Rapids' Ritchie Kotschau in a game that featured nine yellow cards, 42 fouls and several injury delays.