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DC United captures spring training championship trophy in PKs over MetroStars.

By Robert Wagman
SoccerTimes

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (Friday, February 18, 2000) -- It what turned into a suspenseful and exciting match, Major League Soccer champion D.C. United won its first MLS preseason title on penalty kicks after the MetroStars tied the match 2-2 in injury time.

The match was won when United keeper Mark Simpson made a leg save on the penalty attempt of veteran Wellington Sanchez. All five D.C. United penalty takers converted their attempts with Judah Cooks nailing the game-winner.

Injuries and national team duty forced coach Thomas Rongen and D.C. United to start an almost all-reserve team (midfielder Marco Etcheverry, defender Geoff Aunger and nine reserves). MetroStars coach Octavio Zambrano, meanwhile, was able to put the MetroStars' best 11 in camp on the field at the start of the match.

Between national team duty and the injuries, United was so shorthanded that before the game Rongen listed himself and assistant coach Frank Yallop as substitutes. League officials nixed that idea, but Rongen wore an official number-42 game jersey during the match -- the number being for his age.

Actually Rongen was more than half serious about playing. "We had no bodies left on the bench," he said after the match. "I like this format of playing a preseason tournament, but we need more practice time. We had too many players missing or hurt. I didn't know if I had 11 I could have on the field at the end of this match."

The MetroStars had a decided advantage in the first half, but could only emerge with the score level at 1-1. Simpson was in excellent form making two huge one-handed saves on point blank shots in the first 12 minutes, one on Mark Chung and the second on Alex Comas.

The MetroStars opened the scoring in the 23d minute when Brian Kelly ran by United defender Clint Peay, who was visibly slowed from the effects of a calf strain, and slotted the ball under Simpson.

United drew level at 1-1 in the 40th minute when David Hayes put in the rebound when a header from Chris Albright came off the crossbar. Etcheverry put the ball on Albright's head with a long curving pass.

United took the lead 2-1 at the 52d minute when Chris Albright took the ball down the right side and crossed it to Mike Burke standing in the goal mouth. Burke poked the ball past MetroStars reserve keeper Tim Howard.

United looked to have the match wrapped up in regulation when it allowed the MetroStars to get off one last attack. With Rongen yelling to his team to hold the ball in the corner to kill time, a cross was attempted, and the ball went to the MetroStars who launched a counterattack. The ball ended up with newcomer Walter Buckeridge who put it past Simpson to send the match to overtime.

In overtime, both teams played with great intensity, but neither could score a golden goal. So the championship went to penalty kicks.

In the third-place match, the Chicago Fire defeated the Tampa Bay Mutiny 2-1 on an 85th minute goal by Pete Marino from a nice cross by Junior Agogo.

"Both teams were obviously very tired and struggling at the end,” said Chicago coach Bob Bradley. "I'm glad it didn't go into overtime."

Agogo, 20, from Ghana, is one of the more interesting stories in MLS pre-season training. He spent the last three seasons playing for Sheffield Wednesday in the English first division. His married sister lives in North Carolina and his mother is emigrating to join her. So Sheffield gave him a "compassionate" release so he could join his family.

"He looks very good," Bradley said after Agogo's 90-minute effort. “He gets better every match and he is only 20."

Agogo hopes to play for Chicago this season, but an MLS contract has not yet been negotiated. The Fire "are good people and they were the first club over here to invite me to try out," he said. "I'm looking forward to playing in MLS."

Chicago opened the scoring at the 27th minute when an unmarked Diego Gutierrez brought the ball down the left side and crossed it into the center of the box where an equally unmarked Dema Kovalenko headed it sharply past Mutiny keeper Scott Garlick.

Tampa tied it at 1-1 in the 50th minute when a lovely pass from Steve Ralston put Manual Bucuane through alone on Chicago goalie Greg Sutton and the Tampa rookie put the ball smartly into the right corner.

Bucuane, known as "Tico-Tico," is from Mozambique and has played in Portugal's first division. A non-roster player on a try-out with Tampa, he had been in training camp one day.

Senior correspondent Robert Wagman's "It Seems To Me . . . " appears regularly on SoccerTimes. He can be e-mailed at SoccerWag1@aol.com.

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