Freddy Adu didn’t take long to boost D.C. United into Major League Soccer’s Eastern Conference final.
Six minutes after he entered the game, Adu used his speed, pinpoint passing and unselfish play to set up Jaime Moreno’s goal in the 85th minute to help end the MetroStars’ season at RFK Stadium. Defender Bryan Namoff added an insurance goal in the 89th minute for a 2-0 victory last night.
But United’s win came at a cost. Captain Ryan Nelsen and left-flank midfielder Dema Kovalenko must sit out Saturday’s conference championship because of an accumulation of yellow cards.
“It’s going to hurt us for sure, but we’ll win the next one, and then Ryan and Dema are going to be ready for the final,” United coach Peter Nowak said.
United won’t learn its opponent or site until the outcome of today’s New England Revolution-Columbus Crew game. If the Revolution win or tie, the game will be at RFK at 7 p.m. If the top-seeded Crew win the total-goals series, United will play at 7:30 p.m. in Columbus, Ohio. The Revolution won the first game 1-0 .
United had the better run of play throughout the game against the MetroStars and finally broke the deadlock in the last five minutes of the second game of the total-goals Eastern Conference semifinal series before 15,763.
The 15-year-old Adu didn’t play in the first game last Saturday, the first time he didn’t appear in a game this season. But as soon as Adu came in last night, he changed the game with his energy.
Adu, who arrived in the 79th minute, took a long ball from rookie midfielder Joshua Gros on the left flank and outran MetroStars rookie defender Jeff Parke into the penalty area. When Adu reached the edge of the 6-yard box, he delivered a perfect pass across the goal mouth to Moreno, who tapped in Adu’s serve from four yards.
“When you go in, coaches always say, ‘Go make a difference,’ and today our trainer [Brian Goodstein] told me, ‘Hey, Freddy, go in and be the difference maker,’ and I was like, ‘Right-on,’” Adu said. “You go in, you’re fresh, everybody is a little tired and you take advantage of it. Just run at them and try to create chances for your team. Fortunately for me, I was able to do that.”
A curling free kick by Kovalenko from about 25 yards set up United’s second goal. The ball bounced down off the crossbar, off goalkeeper Jonny Walker’s left shoulder and then off the left post before trickling out a few yards from the goal. The opportunistic Namoff sent the rebound high into the net for United’s insurmountable second score.
A scrappy, physical first half was overshadowed by referee Ricardo Valenzuela’s propensity to issue yellow cards. Valenzuela handed out six — three to each team — in the opening 45 minutes — and nine for the game.
Valenzuela’s quick trigger will factor against United in the Eastern Conference final. Kovalenko was whistled for diving in the 41st minute, and Nelsen was given a yellow in the 61st minute for a hard tackle. In United’s 2-0 shutout in the first game at Giants Stadium, Kovalenko was slapped with a yellow in the 50th minute for holding, and Nelsen was whistled in the 62nd minute for pushing and holding.
MLS has a points system based on each yellow card. If a player accumulates eight or more points on yellow cards, he must sit out the following game.
It’s the worst — playing is the most important thing,” Kovalenko said. “I’m getting tired of this. I’m getting tired of fouls, and they always go against me. I’m glad we won, but the most important thing is that I can’t play next game.”