WASHINGTON (AP) – It’s one game to decide the best team in the Eastern Conference, and that suits D.C. United just fine.

United host the New England Revolution at RFK Stadium on Sunday, with the winner advancing to the MLS Cup on Nov. 12 in Frisco, Texas. The tension will be different from the first round of the playoffs, which consists of home-and-home series decided by total goals over two games.

“I like one game better, for sure,” United forward Alecko Eskandarian said. “There’s no math behind it. No, ‘Play this one safe.’ It’s a lot better to go out there and say, ‘One game: The winner goes to the championship.”‘

Certainly the two-game concept has a place in the soccer world. It works beautifully in major international competitions, giving each team one home game to keep the playing field level.

But United worked hard this season to finish with the league’s best regular season record and earn the top seed in the East, and they feel that advantage was essentially erased when they had to visit the fourth-seeded New York Red Bulls – a team with a losing record – to open the first round.

“If we’re going to keep the format like that, it’s supposed to be one game,” United coach Peter Nowak said. “The higher seed has the home game.”

Perhaps United are still somewhat scarred from the way they played against the Red Bulls. After taking a 1-0 victory on the road, Nowak’s team played poorly at home and was fortunate to escape with a 1-1 draw on Christian Gomez’s late goal.

“People who don’t play the sport don’t realize how tough it is to play the second leg of a home-and-home series with a lead,” midfielder Ben Olsen said. “You don’t want to defend and play passive, but it’s instinctual sometimes to do that. That’s why you see a lot of teams not play the greatest when they have an aggregate lead.”

The Chicago Fire know that feeling well. They weren’t able to hold a 1-0 first-leg advantage last weekend against the Revolution, dropping the second leg 2-1 on the road. After a scoreless overtime, New England won a shootout 4-2 to advance to its fifth consecutive conference final.

“D.C. will have a different mind-set than they had against New York,” Revolution midfielder Shalrie Joseph said. “They had a 1-0 lead and they didn’t put a lot of pressure on New York, but this time they will come out to play and they will have more intensity.”

Nowak certainly hopes so. The coach said his team was so uninspiring against the Red Bulls that United will be the underdog – even at home – against New England.

“We have to stretch the field,” Nowak said. “We didn’t use our wings whatsoever. It was pretty easy to close us down, and that must change.”

The game will be a rematch of what many consider to be the greatest game in MLS history, the seesaw 3-3 thriller between United and the Revolution at RFK in the 2004 conference final.

Even the penalty kicks were tied 3-3 after the usual five rounds.

The Revolution’s Clint Dempsey, who is doubtful for Sunday’s game with a sprained ankle, had his attempt stopped in the sixth round to send United to the MLS Cup, where they won their fourth league title.

AP-ES-11-03-06 1118EST



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