WASHINGTON (AP) The Chicago Fire's curse on D.C. United lives on. Barely.
The Fire got the better of United in the playoffs yet again Thursday night, scoring two first-half goals and surviving a thrilling D.C. comeback in a 2-2 tie that sent Chicago to the Eastern Conference final.
The result gave the Fire a 3-2 aggregate win in the two-game, first-round series, following their 1-0 win at home last week. Chicago improved to 5-0-2 against United in the playoffs, including a 4-0 rout in Washington in the exact same setting second leg of the first round two years ago.
The Fire will visit the winner of the first-round series between the New England Revolution and the New York Red Bulls in next week's conference final. The Revolution and Red Bulls, tied 0-0 after the first leg, will play the second Saturday.
For the second straight year, United failed to covert the league's best regular- season record into a championship. After falling behind 2-0, United played desperate but magnificent soccer in the second half as if they were really were the best team in the league but they couldn't get the third goal needed to tie the series and force an overtime period.
Chad Barrett and Chris Rolfe stunned the RFK Stadium crowd by 19,438 by splitting the middle of the defense with similar goals 2 minutes apart in the first half.
In the 31st minute, Calen Carr lifted a pinpoint 40-yard pass ahead to Barrett, who ran unmarked through two defenders to connect on a 12-yard, left-footed half-volley into the left side of the net.
In the 33rd, MVP candidate Cuauhtemoc Blanco headed to Rolfe, who scored his second goal of the series with a 12-yard, right-footed volley into the left corner.
United attacked with abandon after halftime and nearly pulled off the victory and they did it after the league's top goal-scorer, Luciano Emilio. Emilio, who has been battling a sprained ankle that caused him to appear as a late substitute last week, started the game but was removed for a substitute in the 65th minute.
After several close calls, Clyde Simms ended his team's scoring drought against the Fire with a 25-yard low drive to the right of goalkeeper Matt Pickens in the 69th minute.
Five minutes later, substitute Rod Dyachenko set up Christian Gomez, who beat the offside trap to tie the score.
In the frantic moments of injury time, Gomez put the ball in the net after shoving defender Dasan Robinson in a crowded penalty area. Gomez also appeared to touch the ball with part of his arm, and the goal was disallowed.