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D.C. United lucky to advance to MLS East final, Los Angeles looks like the favorite to win the West.

(Sunday, October 24, 1999) -- For the second year in a row, D.C. United got past the Miami Fusion in a first round Major League Soccer Eastern Conference playoff sweep, and for the second year in a row, it was not easy.

Miami gave it all it had today but still came up short in a six-round shootout. Both goalkeepers, United's Tom Presthus and the Fusion's Jeff Cassar were sharp, during the match and in the shootout. Cassar even stopped a well-taken penalty kick from A.J. Wood in the shootout, after he had fouled Wood on his attempt.

This was a strange match for DC. United. One might say it was one that the Fusion lost rather than United won. It was a strangely officiated match by referee Ricardo Valenzuela, and his whistle probably had much to do with the outcome.

It was clear that Miami came out with instructions to be physical. Both Tyrone Marshall in left defense and Jay Heaps on the right hit, anything that moved in front of them. United hit back, and the match got chippy.

In the 35th minute, Miami's Henry Gutierrez and United's Richie Williams exchanged words and then shoves and inexplicably Valenzuela showed red cards to both. Considering what he let past before and after the incident, it was a strange call. Both sides were forced to play a man down, and the match, which was lively up to that point went rather flat.

United had the run of play for much of the match, but was very ineffective. In the early going, multiple offsides cost it several good chances. Then in the second half, while D.C. continued to have the upper hand positionally, it was never really never much of a threat. United only managed one shot on goal, none for the final 35 minutes of the match.

Miami had one big chance. In the 83rd minute, a lovely give-and-go between Nelson Vargas and Eric Wynalda sent Wynalda in alone on United keeper Presthus. But Presthus was up to the task and he smothered Wynalda's low shot.

At points over the final 20 minutes, it seemed that both teams were playing to get to the shootout. This was not a match that will make anyone's highlight reel.

But the win did the trick for United. It got it through to the next round and a week off to regroup. Without Williams who will have to serve his red-card suspension and Diego Sonora who appears to be leaving the club to play abroad in a quasi-contract dispute, United will be somewhat undermanned playing the Columbus Crew next weekend.

Miami also had something to take from this match. The Fusion got very strong play from some of their younger players like Heaps and Marshall, Wynalda looks like he is getting back in shape after missing most of the season. The team needs more consistency in the middle and likely will make several player changes. But the outlook for the Fusion seems brighter than some of the other first-round losers.

Sometime next season the Colorado Rapids will score a goal. That, however, will be too late to help them this season, as the Los Angeles Galaxy swept the first-round playoff best-of-three series between the two.

Colorado couldn't find the net for the final 700 minutes of this season, and were able to score only three goals in its last 14 matches. Today, the goal draught was not the result of lack of trying. Colorado played well enough to win this match and send the series back to LA for a deciding game. But if there has been a hard luck team in MLS this season, it has been the Rapids.

Los Angeles goalkeeper Kevin Hartman, who tied for the MLS shutout lead this season with 11, was the player of the match. On at least three occasions he stopped what seemed like sure Colorado goals.

Los Angeles was the picture of patience. As the scoreless second half dragged on, it appeared this would be the second playoff match of the day to go to a shootout after a scoreless draw. But in the 74th minute, when Galaxy midfielder Danny Pena got free and Rapids goalkeeper Ian Feuer was asked to make the big save, unlike Hartmam he could not, and the Galaxy went on to a hard-fought win.

So one can probably expect some big changes in Denver before next season. Coach Glenn Myernick received a rather tepid vote of confidence from management last week, and his job could be in jeopardy. Certainly there will be a number of new faces on the field.

Meanwhile, Los Angeles gets to rest for a week and await the Dallas-Chicago winner. The Galaxy has to be looked on as the favorite to represent the West in MLS Cup 99.

Robert Wagman is a regular contributor to SoccerTimes and can be e-mailed at

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