D.C. United, MetroStars start again Rivalry may be young, but intensity undoubted

April 05, 1997|By Lowell E. Sunderland | Lowell E. Sunderland,SUN STAFF

WASHINGTON -- If a year-old league can already have fostered a true heated rivalry between two teams, then Major League Soccer's New York/New Jersey MetroStars and D.C. United qualify.

How about as precedent seven previous meetings, split 4-3 in favor of D.C. United -- with only one shutout, two shootouts and each game decided by only a goal, the last one in the final minute?

These have been two evenly matched teams, and fans and players alike will find out at 7: 30 tonight if that balance still exists.

The New Yorkers return to RFK Stadium, hoping to spoil United's 1997 home opener. Pre-game festivities begin at 5: 30 p.m. By game time, United expects a crowd exceeding 30,000 -- with a shot at topping its largest crowd, last season's home-opening 35,032.

The MetroStars, who last played at RFK six months ago this week, surely remember that Oct. 2 game. Having fought to tie United 1-1 at 86 minutes in the deciding game of the best-of-three playoff series, the New Yorkers were whistled just three minutes later for a take-down in the box. United's Raul Diaz Arce scored on the penalty kick in the game's final minute, knocking the MetroStars out of the playoffs, 2-1.

Tonight, the MetroStars would like a measure of revenge, of course. But United, which subsequently won MLS's first championship, has a mission, as well -- taking three points by winning its first '97 game outright and giving their Eastern Conference opponent its third straight loss. United scored a shootout win in Los Angeles last Saturday.

"It's a very big game for us, both because it's our opener and because it's New York," said Jeff Agoos, a defender for both United and the U.S. national team. "It's only been a year, but we have a pretty good thing established with them. There's not a lot of love lost between the two teams."

The MetroStars won both of last year's regular-season games at RFK. But United won three times against the MetroStars at Giants Stadium a year ago, twice in the regular season and once in the playoffs. United also lost a playoff game there.

At RFK tonight, United fans can expect to see pretty much the same attacking personnel that won the first MLS Cup, but the team's defense has a new look.

Up top, the key missing face will be that of Diaz Arce, last year's scoring leader who is playing for his native El Salvador in a World Cup qualifier against Canada. United's second-leading scorer, Steve Rammel, likely will start in Diaz Arce's spot.

All six of United's other internationals are probable starters -- Bolivian midfielder Marco Etcheverry, the team's "quarterback," Bolivian forward Jaime Moreno, as well as U.S. internationals Agoos and Eddie Pope on defense, and midfielders John Harkes and Tony Sanneh. The fourth midfielder will be Richie Williams.

Joining Agoos and Pope on defense will be Dave Vaudreuil, a Baltimore Blast defender in 1989-91, and off-season acquisition Carlos Llamoso, a Colombian-born 27-year-old who played last season for the A-League's New York Fever.

In goal will be a league rookie, 24-year-old Scott Garlick, who is on loan from the A-League's Carolina Dynamo. He will be backed by Jeff Causey, who opened last season in United's goal.

Pub Date: 4/05/97

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