United Keeps Slim Playoff Hopes alive.(SPORTS)

Article excerpt

Byline: Ken Wright, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

D.C. United just won't go away.

Reserve forward Ali Curtis scored the biggest goal of his professional career to keep United's last-gasp playoff hopes alive.

Curtis scored the game-winning goal in the 87th minute to lead United to a crucial 2-1 victory over the New York/New Jersey MetroStars before an announced 17,677 last night at RFK Stadium.

United can control its playoff destiny to a degree by beating the Dallas Burn on Thursday in the regular season finale at RFK and hoping for outside help. If United beats the Burn, it will need the MetroStars to beat the New England Revolution on Saturday and the Columbus Crew to defeat the Chicago Fire on Sunday in order to qualify for the playoffs.

Only in Major League Soccer can a team with a 1-10-3 road record remain alive for a playoff berth with one game remaining.

"It's so bittersweet, I'm not going to sleep a wink tonight," United coach Ray Hudson said.

United played with a man advantage for the final 60 minutes, and Curtis used his speed and fresh legs to keep his team's dream alive. The game-winning goal is an example of how United should have played all season. From United's defensive third, midfielder Bobby Convey sent a long ball to midfielder Marco Etcheverry, who sent a long ball up the middle to Curtis.

Curtis, who entered the game in the 71st minute for ineffective forward Henry Zambrano, found himself one-one-one with MetroStars goalkeeper Tim Howard inside the 18-yard box. Howard came way off his line to challenge Curtis, and the forward's perfectly timed 15-yard shot beat Howard into an open net.

"Marco got the ball in the midfield and put the ball right on my foot," Curtis said. "Howard came out and I was able to put the ball past him."

United's win did come at a price. Etcheverry and defender Brandon Prideaux must sit out of United's season finale because of yellow card accumulation.

United was missing five starters - forwards Santino Quaranta, Jaime Moreno, defenders Milton Reyes, Ryan Nelsen and midfielder Richie Williams - because of injuries and suspensions.

Starting left back Bryan Namoff, who was called up from the Richmond Kickers, United's A-League affiliate, played the full 90 minutes Friday in Charleston, S.C., in the Kickers' 2-1 loss. …