United states its case with 3 1st-half goals D.C. controls Columbus in Eastern opener, 3-2

October 13, 1997|By Lowell E. Sunderland | Lowell E. Sunderland,SUN STAFF

WASHINGTON -- D.C. United won its opening Major League Soccer Eastern Conference title playoff game against the Columbus Crew yesterday, scoring its third, decisive goal with three seconds left.

Trouble was, that was just before the first half ended. When the game-ending whistle blew, the score was merely 3-2 -- a United win good for a smile but not after some anxious moments for 11,820 fans at RFK Stadium on a gorgeous fall afternoon.

The win -- United's eighth straight in playoffs dating to last season -- put the club up 1-0 in the best-of-three series that continues Wednesday night on Columbus' tediously narrow field, where United has lost three of four games and the Crew has won seven of its past eight. The third game, if needed, will be back at RFK on Sunday.

The Crew played yesterday's first half exactly like a team that had never won at RFK, which was true, while United put on, particularly in the last 25 or so minutes, something approaching a clinic on inter-passing and pressuring the Crew's left-side defense.

Attacking midfielder Tony Sanneh scored United's first and third goals in the ninth and 45th minutes, and forward Raul Diaz Arce got the second in the 29th. United's most versatile player, John Maessner, had two assists as a midfielder, defender David Vaudreuil got his third assist in as many playoff games, and forward Jaime Moreno was credited with assisting Diaz Arce, as well.

United captain John Harkes, sparkling as the team's playmaker with Marco Etcheverry playing in Bolivia's last-gasp attempt at World Cup qualification, had an assist, as well. In the game's closing moments, Harkes also put in what seemed United's fourth goal, except that he was ruled offside on a bang-bang play finished virtually on the Crew's goal line, and sent Crew goalkeeper Brad Friedel diving desperately to his left to touch away a blistered 30-yard free-kick.

"We played probably one of the worst halves of soccer we've played all year and got ourselves in too deep of a hole," Crew coach Tom Fitzgerald said. "Our thinking process was just too slow.'

United coach Bruce Arena, who learned after the game that he had been named MLS Coach of the Year, was delighted by the first half but said "our display in the second half was terrible. We expected our opponent to roll over and die, and they obviously didn't."

The Crew clearly was more confident in the second half, outshooting United by 7-4. Crew forward Jason Farrell scored in the 57th minute from 6 yards off a deflected ball.

Defender Thomas Dooley, who often attacked for the Crew, cut United's lead to one goal in the 73rd minute from a comparable spot off a nice feed from midfielder Brian Maisonneuve. Both goals resulted from set-pieces.

In Game 1 of the best-of-three Western Conference championship in Dallas, Sean Henderson scored on a header in the 42nd minute to give the Colorado Rapids a 1-0 victory over the Burn.

Henderson scored off Matt Kmosko's cross-field pass.

Pub Date: 10/13/97

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