- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 2, 2003

D.C. United’s first playoff appearance in four years was one the club would rather forget.

While United has a strange collection of over-the-hill and hot-headed veterans sprinkled with naive youth, the Chicago Fire showed the class and sophistication that made them Major League Soccer’s best team this season.

Andy Williams scored in the fourth minute, and Ante Razov added a devastating goal in stoppage time as the Fire beat United 2-0 in the first game of the Eastern Conference semifinals last night at RFK Stadium.

Game 2 will be next Sunday at Chicago’s Soldier Field, and United needs to score at least two goals and allow none to send the series into overtime. This was United’s first loss in 13 home playoff games.

“It just really didn’t go our way tonight,” United coach Ray Hudson said. “We’ll attack it differently next week.”

On the second goal, United midfielder Bryan Namoff hesitated on a bouncing ball into the box played to Razov out of the midfield. Namoff lunged with one leg to knock the ball away, but MLS’ second-leading goalscorer this season took two touches and then chipped over United rookie goalkeeper Doug Warren from 12 yards for the final score.

“We’re faced with an enormous mountain now,” Hudson said. “Poor Bryan — the second goal really hurts us now. [It] was an emotional dagger. Bryan got victimized on the goal. He hesitated.”

Hudson wisely started a four-man backline against the second-highest goal scoring team (53 goals) in MLS this season. The coach knew playing three in the back would be suicide against such an explosive club.

But four minutes into the game, Hudson’s greatest fear became reality when his usually reliable backline broke down. A poor clearance by captain Ryan Nelsen enabled the Fire to take a quick 1-0 lead.

Nelsen nonchalantly cleared a cross from the left flank and headed the ball out of the box into the middle, but there were no black shirts in the vicinity. Nelsen’s ball went straight out to the Fire’s Williams. From 28 yards out he struck the ball with the outside of his right foot and sent a rocket inside the left post for the game’s first goal.

“I suppose it wasn’t a very good header by me, Bobby [Convey] slipped, and he [Williams] cracked it through and you got to take your hat off for that, it was a good goal,” Nelsen said.

In a total goals playoff format, the last thing Hudson needed to see was Chicago scoring first, especially since his club went 2-8-4 in games this season when its opponents scored first. In fact, United was lucky this wasn’t a 3-0 game at halftime. The Fire had at least three good chances to extend their halftime lead.

Fire midfielder Jesse Marsch, a former United player from the club’s early days (1996 and 1997), tried a back heel shot from inside the 6-yard box that Warren saved.

In the 30th minute, Fire rookie forward Damani Ralph sent an 8-yard header over the crossbar. In the 42nd minute, Warren came up big again denying Fire midfielder DaMarcus Beasley on a breakaway from 12 yards out.

United, with a 10-11-9 regular-season record, was thoroughly outplayed in the first 45 minutes. D.C. had only one real scoring chance, when a goal by forward Ronald Cerritos in the 14th minute was disallowed because the forward was offside.

“We have to go [to Chicago] with the right attitude, play more offensive, and be smart,” United midfielder Dema Kovalenko said. “We’ve got to play as if it’s our last game.”

Notes — United signed U.S. Under-20 goalkeeper Clint Baumstark for the rest of the season and waived goalkeeper Jorge Geddes. Baumstark was called up twice last month by United. He played the 100 minutes in a 1-1 tie against the Columbus Crew on Oct.4. … Last night’s game was the final official act for Bobby Goldwater, outgoing president of the D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission.

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