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MLS playoff battle pauses Wednesday for tournament quarterfinals

(Tuesday, August 8, 2000) -- Major League Soccer made it a clean sweep with its teams winning all eight third-round matches in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, setting up the first all-MLS quarterfinals in the 87-year-old tournament.

The league’s playoff race might be heading into the final stretch, but tomorrow the survivors of the Open Cup's original 154-team field will get an early taste of postseason intensity with all four quarterfinals being played.

The semifinals will be played August 23, while the final is scheduled for October 22, one week after MLS Cup 2000 is decided at RFK Stadium.

Capsule previews of the four games (with all times Eastern):

East bracket

Miami Fusion at D.C. United, 7:30 p.m.

This match is one of three remaining games between these two teams currently out of the MLS playoff picture.

The Fusion defeated United 3-1 Saturday at Lockhart Stadium in league play, with Miami coming away with an important 3-1 result. With defending MLS champion United on the verge of missing playoffs after playing in all four previous league title games winning three -- the U.S. Open Cup takes on even more importance for D.C. to salvage its season,

This will be the first meeting between the Eastern Division rivals in Open Cup play. With a victory, United will make it to the semifinals for the third time in four years of Open Cup play -- D.C. won the tournament in 1996, but did not participate in 1998) -- while the Fusion hopes to reach the semis for the first time.

Miami forward Welton, who has not started in the last three regular season games for the Fusion, may see time tomorrow. The Brazilian had four goals and one assist in the second round and also scored a golden goal in a 1-0 Fusion triumph over United in MLS play back in May. The Fusion advanced to the quarterfinals on July 25 by surviving a scare in an Open Cup classic. Miami topped the Mid Michigan Bucks of the Premier Development League on penalty kicks after the two teams remained tied at 3-3 after 120 minutes of play in Saginaw, Mich. The Fusion did not miss a penalty kick in the six rounds of the shootout against the Bucks.

Miami rookie midfielder Kyle Beckerman is suspended for the match after a red card in the third-round victory. Defender Ivan McKinley is not eligible to play in the Cup for the after having appeared in the competition for the Revolution before his midseason trade. Midfielder Martin Machon is unavailable after rejoining Guatemala’s national team preparations for a World Cup qualifying match next week. Machon notched two assists against United Saturday and leads the Fusion with 11 assists on the season.

United, the top seed in the East bracket, ousted the defending Open Cup holders, the A-League’s Rochester Rhinos 3-0 in a third-round game on July 26 at RFK Stadium, a rematch of the 1996 final. Midfielder Marco Etcheverry assisted on all three goals including two from U.S. Olympic team hopeful Chris Albright. United is yet to allow a goal in two rounds of the Open Cup.

MetroStars at Columbus Crew, 8 p.m., Fox Sports World.

The MetroStars, the MLS Eastern Division leaders, face their third road game in seven days. The Crew has won four of its last five league home games. The home-field advantage was not a factor, however, in both league games this season against the MetroStars won 2-0 in Columbus while the Crew came away with a 1-0 victory at Giants Stadium on a late Brian McBride goal

McBride, with five goals in six career Open Cup games, was sidelined for the last two rounds with a fractured right cheekbone.

Tim Howard, the Open Cup goalkeeper for the Metros, will guard the nets. German defender Lothar Matthäus will join the MetroStars in Columbus and hopes to see action in the game. Midfielder Roy Myers has joined the Costa Rican National Team and will not play.

The Metros, losers of their last two MLS games, hope to regain their luster and produce the stellar play that led to a dominating 3-0 defeat of Tampa Bay in the Open Cup third round in Uniondale, N.Y. The team will attempt to reach the Open Cup semifinals for the third time in four years of participation (1997-2000)

Columbus advanced to the quarterfinal round by virtue of its 4-1 victory over the Hampton Roads Mariners of the A-League at Crew Stadium July 19. These two teams have met one other time in Open Cup history, with the Crew winning 1-0 in the semifinal stage of the 1998 edition in Metairie, La. Columbus then lost the final against the Chicago Fire. The Crew has participated in the Open Cup twice, advancing to the semifinals last year.

In 1998, the Open Cup was named after the Crew's investor\operator, Lamar Hunt.

West bracket

Dallas Burn Chicago Fire, 8:30 p.m.

These two Central Division rivals will renew their history of dramatic matches at North central College’s Cardinal Stadium in Naperville, Ill. Both teams are former Open Cup champions, with Dallas winning in 1997 and Chicago winning in 1998.

Chicago and Dallas are No. 1 and No. 3, respectively, in goals scored in MLS. Each team has one of the top four scorers in MLS with Ante Razov (Fire) third with 15 goals and five assists for 35 points, and Jason Kreis (Burn) fourth with 11 goals and 10 assists for 32 points. Both are United States national team forwards.

The Fire and Burn last met in Open Cup play in the 1998 semifinals when the Fire defeated the Burn 3-2 on a late goal by Fire defender Lubos Kubik, capturing the "double" after taking MLS Cup '98. Kubik aggravated an MCL sprain in his left knee in Sunday's league game against the MetroStars and will be out another four to six weeks. Fire midfielder Diego Gutierrez will also miss the game as he recovers from a right ankle injury.

These two teams participated in perhaps the most memorable playoff series in league history last year when the Burn came back from 2-0 down in dramatic fashion to win the deciding Game Three 3-2. This season the Fire and Burn have split their first two MLS meetings, with each team winning on home soil. The proceeds from this game will benefit the FireWorks for Kids Foundation -- the Fire’s charitable arm.

The Fire reached the quarterfinals by defeating the Chicago Sockers of the fourth-division Premier Development League. Dallas advanced by beating the A-League champion Minnesota Thunder 2-0. Two more Fire-Burn MLS regular season matches remain, including a game at the Cotton Bowl on August 16. While Chicago is chasing the Central Division title, Dallas currently occupies the eighth and final playoff spot with six games left.

San Jose Earthquakes at Los Angeles Galaxy, 10:30 p.m.

The Galaxy and Earthquakes resume their Western Division battles at the University of California at Fullerton. San Jose, with the worst record in MLS, has held Los Angeles to two ties in the MLS regular season, but the Galaxy has won 12 of 18 MLS regular season games in the series history.

This Cup may carry even more significance for San Jose, trying to salvage something from a season in which the club has the worst record in MLS. The Earthquakes have received outstanding efforts in Open Cup play from the younger players such forwards Scott Bower and Ian Russell. Bower had a goal and an assist in a third-round victory against Richmond Kickers (A-League) and Russell has three goals in the competition to lead the team. Backup goalkeeper Jon Conway, who has started and recorded shutouts in San Jose's two Open Cup game, should again get the start against the Galaxy. He shut out Los Angeles in his MLS debut on May 17,

Conway's counterpart will be Galaxy keeper Matt Reis, who also started in both Galaxy Open Cup matches. The Galaxy is coming off an impressive 5-1 trouncing of the MLS-best Kansas City Wizards at Arrowhead Stadium Saturday. Mexican forward Luis Hernández proved deadly when maneuvering on the counter-attack and any early goals by L.A. could spell doom for San Jose.

Both teams are looking to make it to the Open Cup semifinals for the first time. This is only the second year of Open Cup play for the Galaxy. The Earthquakes are in the quarterfinals of the U.S. Open Cup for the third time in three tries (1997-98, 2000). The Earthquakes advanced to the quarterfinals this season with a 2-0 third-round victory in a physical match at Spartan Stadium against the Richmond July 25. The Galaxy also came away with a 2-0 result over the San Diego Flash of the A-League.

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