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D.C. United has slight edge in MLS Cup '99.

By Jerry Langdon
Gannett News Service

(Friday, November 19, 1999) -- The two best teams in Major League Soccer, by far, will square off in MLS Cup 99.

It will be a reprise of MLS Cup '96, with D.C. United and the Los Angeles Galaxy meeting at 1:30 p.m. (ET) Sunday in Foxboro (Mass.) Stadium in a match televised live on ABC

Both teams were overpowering in winning decisive third games in the conference finals, D.C. United routing Columbus, 4-0, and the Galaxy disposing of Dallas, 3-1.

There's little to choose between the teams, on paper. They split two games in the regular season, the Galaxy winning, 2-1, on a last-second free kick by Mauricio Cienfuegos in Washington, and D.C. United prevailing, 2-0, despite fielding a reserve-laden lineup in Pasadena, Calif.

D.C. United has established a solid edge in the series, 8-4, including a dramatic 3-2 sudden-death overtime triumph in MLS Cup '96 at rain-soaked Foxboro. Ten starters from that historic match figure to be in the lineups for MLS Cup '99:

D.C. United -- forward Jaime Moreno, midfielders Marco Etcheverry, John Maessner and Richie Williams, defenders Jeff Agoos and Eddie Pope.

Galaxy -- midfielders Cobi Jones and Cienfuegos, defenders Robin Fraser and Greg Vanney.

D.C. United, the Eastern Conference winner, had the top-scoring team in MLS this year with 65 goals, while yielding 43. Los Angeles allowed the least goals in MLS history with 29 -- shattering the previous mark of 41 set by Columbus in 1997.

The Western Conference champion, meanwhile, scored 49 goals -- a sharp drop from its record 85 in 1998.

The teams appear evenly matched, with a slight edge to D.C. United due to its Bolivian scoring combination of Etcheverry and Moreno, which has been unstoppable most of the season.

A rundown:

Forward: Roy Lassiter snapped his scoring slump in the Eastern Conference finals, which makes the already prolific D.C. United offense even more imposing. Moreno is quicker and more aggressive than he was last year -- and has shown many moments of brilliance. Carlos Hermosillo is tough in the box, and Cobi Jones has exceptional speed -- and both are streaky scorers. Edge: D.C. United.

Midfield: Cienfuegos is a brilliant central midfielder, but isn't at the same level as Etcheverry, the best offensive player in MLS. Roy Myers has been a big addition for the Galaxy, who also have been starting Clint Mathis, though Simon Elliot is a possibility. Ben Olsen is blossoming into stardom for D.C. United, while John Maessner does much of the grunt work. Danny Pena is a strong defensive midfielder for Los Angeles; Richie Williams is steady for D.C. United. Edge: D.C. United.

Defense: Galaxy has been rock-solid in the back with Robin Fraser, Greg Vanney, and Paul Caligiuri. Ezra Hendrickson is the fourth starter, and how much he'll be allowed to go forward on offense may be a key element of the game. D.C. United has had injury problems throughout but when healthy, Carlos Llamosa and Eddie Pope are formidable in the middle. Jeff Agoos is outstanding on the left, and either Diego Sonora or Carey Talley are adequate on the right. Edge: Even.

Goalkeeper: Kevin Hartman has been making big saves all season for the Galaxy. Tom Presthus is talented, but prone to mistakes. Edge: Galaxy.

Prediction: D.C. United 2, Los Angeles 1.

Jerry Langdon is sports editor of Gannett News Service and can be e-mailed at jlangdon@gns.gannett.com.

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