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Cienfuegos Is Man of Hour as Time Is on Galaxy's Side

MLS: He converts free kick after controversial stoppage with seconds left in 2-1 victory over D.C. United.

June 20, 1999|DAVID WHARTON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WASHINGTON — Somewhere amid the chaos and confusion, with the clock ticking down, Mauricio Cienfuegos got one last shot on goal.

That much is certain.

His kick was nearly miraculous, clearing a wall of defenders and curling just inside the near post.

That's clear, too.

But everything else about the Galaxy's stunning, last-second, 2-1 victory over D.C. United at RFK Stadium on Saturday night is pretty much open to interpretation.

"The most amazing finish," Cienfuegos called it.

D.C. United Coach Thomas Rongen countered: "This game should have had a completely different ending."

The point of contention came in the final six seconds of what had been a hard-fought match before 21,138 chanting, drum-beating fans. The score was 1-1 and the Galaxy was making a final push.

Greg Vanney dribbled toward the goal and was pulled down from behind by D.C. United midfielder Geoff Aunger. Referee Baojie Sun, an exchange official from China, called for a free kick a few yards outside the box but several D.C. United players hovered over the ball, stalling, hoping to let time run out.

At that point, the clock was stopped by an official on the sidelines, Kermit Quisenberry, who was added to the four-man crew specifically to help the visiting Sun with time management and other nuances of Major League Soccer rules.

"I was yelling for them to stop the clock," Cienfuegos said. "It was the right decision. If you have six seconds left, you have to be allowed to take a shot."

Again, Rongen disagreed: "This was a fifth official . . . it never ceases to amaze me that athletes are not in control of their destiny."

The stoppage gave Cienfuegos time to set up from 20 yards out. Earlier in the game, he had tried for the far post and failed.

"This time I took the shot to the near post," he said.

D.C. United goalkeeper Tom Presthus was fooled, reacting slowly, lunging but not reaching the ball as it curved into the back of the net. A sudden quiet fell over the stadium and, at the opposite end of the field, Galaxy keeper Kevin Hartman was amazed.

"Cien just came up unbelievably huge on that kick," Hartman said.

The goal gave the Galaxy (8-6) a third straight victory and its first win at RFK Stadium in more than three years. And it wasn't Cienfuegos' only great play of the night.

The Salvadoran midfielder, cheered by a gathering of countrymen in the stands, helped the Galaxy to a 1-0 lead on a classic give-and-go in the 22nd minute. The nifty combination with teammate Roy Myers left Cienfuegos charging on goal, firing a shot that Presthus could only deflect. Carlos Hermosillo was on hand to knock home the waist-high rebound.

D.C. United, which fell to 10-5, had plenty of chances to score, forcing Hartman to make seven saves in the game. Forward Roy Lassiter just missed on four occasions. A.J. Wood had several chances, too. Along the way, the play was physical and both teams had their disagreements with Sun, who handed out five yellow cards.

But when the Galaxy became conservative and tried to protect its lead in the final 15 minutes, D.C. United finally took advantage. After a handful of near-misses, forward Ben Olsen lofted a corner kick into the box, just right for teammate Brian Kamler to head it inside the near post.

Only seven minutes remained. What had been a tightly played match turned wild.

Galaxy forward Cobi Jones got past Presthus only to have Jeff Agoos intercept his shot on the open goal. D.C. United forward David Hayes then forced Hartman into a diving save. Neither team seemed content to hold on for a shootout.

"We didn't quit fighting," Hartman said. "Even with six seconds left, we were still pushing forward."

And that, with a little help from an official off the field, was all the time Cienfuegos required.

"I didn't think I was going to have an opportunity but I did," he said. "Thank God we scored. It was a good feeling to get out of here with a win."

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