MetroStars 2, United 1

D.C. United's baffling 2-1 loss to the New York/New Jersey MetroStars last night at RFK Stadium cost the club in so many ways.

An opportunity to extend its winning streak to a season-best five games? Gone.

A chance to all but end its arch rival's MLS playoff prospects? Missed.

The possibility of tying New England for first place in the Eastern Conference with one game remaining? Poof.

"I'm extremely disappointed," Coach Peter Nowak said. "The result is a translation of what's going on on the field. I cannot mention one player who had a good day. If we want to think about the playoffs coming up, right now we have to wake up and make sure this thing never happens again."

United (16-10-5) will play an inconsequential regular season finale Saturday against Columbus, knowing it will have to settle for second place and face the third-seeded Chicago Fire in a two-game first-round playoff series, tentatively set for Oct. 21 at Soldier Field and Oct. 30 at RFK Stadium.

The MetroStars (11-9-11) are tied with Kansas City for the final postseason berth in the East after the Wizards' 2-2 tie with New England allowed the MetroStars to catch the Wizards and the Revolution to pull three points ahead of United (which would lose the tiebreaker with New England if they finish even).

"We didn't come out to play, we didn't come out with any urgency," midfielder Dema Kovalenko said. "We've got to do better because, if we do this in the playoffs, the season is over."

United's sloppy play allowed the MetroStars to take the lead on Sergio Galvan Rey's goal in the 17th minute. Jaime Moreno tied it on the final act of the first half, a 24-yard free kick for his 15th goal of the season, moving him within one of league leader Taylor Twellman of the Revolution.

But the MetroStars restored the lead in the 68th minute on former French World Cup star Youri Djorkaeff's one-time smash from 12 yards before 18,751 disappointed spectators.

The victory was the MetroStars' first over United in their last nine meetings and came a week after D.C. roared to a 4-1 victory at Giants Stadium -- a result that led to coach Bob Bradley's dismissal.

After giving several regulars a rest Wednesday in Salt Lake City, Nowak returned to his full lineup last night. However, United looked nothing like a club that had stormed up the standings the last six weeks.

The defense yielded an alarming amount of space around the penalty area and, inevitably, the MetroStars took advantage when Galvan Rey brought down Amado Guevara's pass and poked an eight-yard shot past goalkeeper Nick Rimando for his seventh goal of the season.

Perhaps it was the sloppy conditions caused by a daylong rain, but United's attack was out of rhythm much of the evening. Nonetheless, the scoring opportunities were there. Freddy Adu shot fractionally wide from 17 yards; Christian Gomez's free kick deflected off Guevara's arm and hit the left post -- no goal and no penalty kick called; Kovalenko missed badly on an angled shot; and Facundo Erpen's bid was slapped away by leaping goalkeeper Tony Meola.

Then, with the half about to end, Moreno smacked his long free kick over the defensive wall and into the upper left corner. Meola didn't bother to move.

After Guevara hit the post and Meola thwarted Adu's 20-yard rocket, the MetroStars went ahead when reserve Seth Stammler (University of Maryland) crossed to Djorkaeff, who one-timed a 12-yarder with tremendous velocity into the lower right side for his 10th strike of the season.

Nowak then made a curious substitution, replacing Adu with defender-midfielder John Wilson.

"I think Johnny brings [a lot], especially going forward," Nowak said. "Freddy was sometimes too deep, sometimes too far away. It's our decision to make, and we decided to go this way."

Said Moreno, after his club's third game in eight days: "I think everybody is tired. It's not an excuse, but we could tell that our legs were heavy, we didn't have any ideas. We just weren't sharp."

United Notes: Earnie Stewart, who returned to Europe after helping United win the MLS title last year, received his championship ring during a pregame ceremony. . . . Argentine forward Lucio Filomeno, who was tentatively set to make his debut last night, was scratched in part because of the poor field conditions. He is recovering from a knee injury. . . . United's reserve squad, which would win the league title by winning its final two matches, will play the MetroStars at 10 a.m. today at the RFK training grounds. Admission is free.

MetroStars' Jeff Agoos celebrates after Youri Djorkaeff scores the winning goal in the second half. "I think everybody is tired," United's Jaime Moreno said.