- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 7, 2004

D.C. United is going to party like it was 1999.

For the first time in five years, United is returning to the MLS Cup. In the first Major League Soccer game decided by penalty kicks, United goalkeeper Nick Rimando made the decisive save against the New England Revolution to send United to Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif., where they will face the Kansas City Wizards for the league’s ninth championship.

Santino Quaranta, Freddy Adu, Alecko Eskandarian and Brian Carroll scored for United in the 4-3 shootout that won the Eastern Conference title. The game was tied 3-3 after regulation and a 30-minute overtime period before 21,101 last night at RFK Stadium.

This will be the fifth trip to the league’s championship game for United, which won the title in 1996, 1997 and 1999 and was runner-up in 1998. Rimando knocked away New England rookie Clint Dempsey’s shot to the right corner to clinch the berth.

“I was just lucky enough to get that last one,” Rimando said. “Dempsey set up, he kind of showed where he was going and I got a quick jump and made the save on the line.”

The first half featured entertaining soccer with four scores in the first 45 minutes. Because it was a high-scoring game decided by penalty kicks, some observers were calling it the best game in MLS history.

“This is the greatest game I’ve ever been involved in and the greatest that I have ever seen,” United defender Mike Petke said.

Added Eskandarian: “With all the lead changes, I don’t think I’ve ever been a part of game like that in my life.”

United couldn’t have scripted a better start as Eskandarian gave United a 1-0 lead in the 11th minute. Midfielder Ben Olsen played a long diagonal ball to Eskandarian, who slipped between Revolution defenders Jay Heaps and Rusty Pierce on a long run down the left flank. Eskandarian, who was United’s first player to reach double figures in goals (10) since Abdul Thompson Conteh in 2001, scored for the second time in the playoffs when he slammed his left-footed blast off the right post past goalkeeper Matt Reis.

Taylor Twellman, who starred at Maryland, tied the game 1-1 in the 17th minute when he volleyed midfielder Marshall Leonard’s long ball from eight yards out. Twellman took Leonard’s ball out of the air and directed it past the helpless Rimando with the side of his right foot.

United recaptured the lead four minutes later on Jaime Moreno’s second goal of the playoffs. Moreno, one of three finalists for the league’s MVP award, received a pass from Earnie Stewart on the left edge of the 18-yard box. With enough time to read a book, Moreno curled his shot around the near left post when he noticed Reis was moving slowly off the far post.

“It was a quick decision. I saw the keeper moving, so I just hit it near post, and it was a nice goal,” Moreno said.

The Revolution tied it before halftime when Carroll was whistled for a unintentional handball in the box after Leonard’s cross inadvertently went off Carroll’s left arm. On the penalty kick, Revolution midfielder Steve Ralston beat Rimando to the right post and tied the game 2-2 in the 44th minute.

United took the lead for the third time when central midfielder Christian Gomez headed in Stewart’s long cross in the 67th minute. Eskandarian played a ball up the right flank for Stewart, who outran a defender and sent a long cross to Gomez at the far left post. Gomez headed Stewart’s offering back to the right corner.

A late goalkeeping gaffe by Rimando prevented United from winning in regulation. In the 85th minute, Revolution forward Pat Noonan tied it 3-3 when he outjumped Rimando on a corner kick in the 85th minute and headed the ball into the net’s left corner. Rimando badly misplayed Ralston’s corner kick and was unable to punch the ball away from Noonan at the left post.

“Nicky couldn’t save the corner kick in the 85th minute, but he was the hero in the penalty kicks,” United coach Peter Nowak said.

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