- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 22, 2006

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — One play made the difference for D.C. United in its first-round MLS playoff game with New York, and Red Bulls coach Bruce Arena wasn’t surprised that Christian Gomez and Jaime Moreno made it.

Gomez scored on a great give-and-go with Moreno in the 77th minute of a 1-0 victory yesterday that put the Red Bulls in a major hole after losing at home in the opener of a home-and-home series.

D.C. United, which has never lost a playoff game at home against the Red Bulls’ franchise, can wrap up the series with a tie next Sunday at RFK Stadium.

“We had three or four chances in the game and they had one, and we lose,” Arena said after the postseason game that drew 8,630 fans to 77,000-seat Giants Stadium.

In one way, the loss was not surprising.

Arena, who was hired by the Red Bulls this summer after losing his job as the U.S. national team coach, had said his team needed to shut down Gomez and Moreno to win. New York didn’t, though, and it paid the price late in the second half.

Ben Olsen sent a pass to Gomez, who dribbled the ball to the top of the penalty box. Gomez then touched a pass to Moreno and continued his run toward the goal. Moreno quickly chipped the ball back to him and Gomez took a one-touch flick shot from around the 10-yard line that gently soared over the head of Red Bulls goalkeeper Jon Conway into the back of the net.

“They are the only two players in the league who can pull that off,” Arena said. “Jaime has the skills and plays the ball in the right spot with the right pace, and Gomez has the composure to know how to run to the right space and the composure to take the ball down and finish off the play. A very nice goal.”

Standing on the other end of the field, United goalkeeper Troy Perkins was equally impressed.

“That’s beautiful,” he said. “I get excited when they score goals like that. Those two together are unbelievable.”

In their two seasons together in the District, Gomez said he and Moreno do everything together on and off the field.

“It’s good to reflect that understanding and that communication that we have on the field,” said Gomez, who led United’s potent offense with 14 goals.

Perkins, who earlier this week was named MLS goalkeeper of the year, made three saves, including a fingertip deflection that caused a header by Jeff Parke hit the crossbar in the 90th minute.

The Red Bulls, who made the playoffs by going 2-0-1 in their final three games, also came close just before Gomez’s goal.

Amado Guevara was just wide right with a 25-yard shot in the 66th minute, and Todd Dunivant had his shot from the left edge of the box just miss the right goal post.

Conway had the best save of the game in the second minute, touching a header by Facundo Erpen over the crossbar.

United posted the best record in the league this season with a 15-7-10 mark, but it limped into the playoffs with only two wins in its final 12 games.

“Today we came together as a team again for the first time in a while,” Olsen said. “We competed for each other, played smart and concentrated as a unit. It’s hopefully the first step in getting back our form.”

United had two wins and two ties in four regular-season games with the Red Bulls. In the two games in the District, the teams tied 2-2 and United won 4-3.

“We have to create more chances and get the early goal to put their backs against the wall,” Parke said. “It will be difficult because they play so well at home, but I think we have the team that can do it.”

The Red Bulls’ three playoffs losses at Washington came when they were known as the MetroStars. The most recent was in 2004. The other two were in 1996, the first of two consecutive seasons that Arena led United to MLS titles.

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