Fire 4, United 0
D.C. United didn't just lose yesterday at RFK Stadium, ending its uneven season and raising critical questions about its direction. The club was embarrassed -- by the Chicago Fire, which slapped United with a 4-0 loss in the finale of their MLS first-round playoff series; by its ruinous performance; and by its petulant behavior as the match slipped away.
"Terrible, just terrible," forward Santino Quaranta said, shaking his head. "I have no answers."
United fell behind after 10 minutes, sunk deeper late in the first half and was out of it when Ivan Guerrero's rocket streaked into the net just before the intermission whistle. The crowd of 20,089, appropriately dressed in black, showered the players with jeers.
United, MLS's highest-scoring team, exited the playoffs without scoring a goal and managed just four total shots on goal in two listless efforts against a short-handed opponent. Yesterday's margin equaled the worst home loss in the club's 10-year history.
The Fire, which played United to a 0-0 tie in the opener nine days earlier, will face the New England Revolution in the Eastern Conference final Sunday in Foxborough, Mass.
"We just didn't show up -- perplexing," United President Kevin Payne said. "I just don't think a lot of players played with a lot of conviction."
By the time 16-year-old forward Freddy Adu made his long-awaited entrance at the start of the second half, the outcome had been decided. Adu, who was suspended for Game 1 after complaining about playing time and suggesting he might be better off playing elsewhere next season, declined interview requests after the game.
Payne, however, said he fully expects the teenager to return to the club in 2006. Payne also confirmed that the club has exercised its option to retain Coach Peter Nowak, who has had an increasingly strained relationship with the teenager.
Nowak's greatest concern after yesterday's game was not Adu, but the rest of his lineup. The Fire, playing without key midfielders Chris Armas (knee) and Justin Mapp (hamstring), displayed a dangerous attack from the first minute and found plentiful space in which to operate. United's problems intensified in the fifth minute when starting central defender Facundo Erpen left with a sprained medial collateral ligament in his right knee.
Five minutes later the Fire went ahead, thanks in part to United goalkeeper Nick Rimando's howler. Rimando came off his line on a corner kick, realized he wasn't going to get to the ball and lunged back toward the near post in anticipation of a shot. The ball bounded through the box to the far post, where Jack Stewart easily headed it into the net.
With United's attack nonexistent, the Fire struck again in the 37th minute, Chris Rolfe roaming to the end line and dropping the ball back to Guerrero for a lashing 10-yard shot. Guerrero wasn't done, blasting a 28-yard volley into the left side on the last act of the half, essentially ending the game and the series.
"It's about heart," Nowak said. "If you go into a game like that thinking that everything is going to be easy because we're playing at home, then you're wrong. . . . As champions, we cannot show up with a performance like tonight."
Adu and Argentine Lucio Filomeno entered at the start of the second half and United began to mount some pressure. But it was desperate pressure, lacking rhythm, and Chicago's defense calmly repelled every foray.
Things turned nasty in the 55th minute when United playmaker Christian Gomez was given a red card for spitting at Fire defender C.J. Brown -- an ejection that could leave him with a multigame suspension at the start of next season. Attempting to draw a foul on Brown that would give United a much-needed penalty kick, Gomez tumbled in the box. Referee Kevin Stott didn't fall for it. Brown yelled at Gomez to get up; he did, and then proceeded to spray Brown with saliva.
Jesse Marsch turned it into a laugher in the 67th minute, snapping a 15-yard volley into the top of the net. The remainder of the match disintegrated into chippy fouls and futile runs by the energetic Adu.
Adu almost got himself ejected with about 10 minutes left, sliding with his cleats up into Logan Pause's knee. Stott assessed him only a yellow card. By then, the silenced crowd was heading for the tunnels.
"We just made mistakes, and it was costly mistakes," midfielder Dema Kovalenko said. "It's disappointing, the season's over."