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MLS Playoffs: MetroStars
September 26th, 2001 12AM

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The coaches' darkhorse pick

HOW THEY BEAT YOU: The Metros have been revamped since injuries knocked Clint Mathis out for the season and hobbled Adolfo Valencia and Tab Ramos.

Gilmar and Ross Paule are wild cards. Their abilities have yet to be incorporated into the Metros' system, which relies on Mark Chung and Petter Villegas scorching teams on the flanks.

Villegas' pace also has been utilized up top alongside rookie Rodrigo Faria, who can slash his way into scoring positions on the dribble and is getting the hang of how to angle and time his runs.

The back three are solid, although only Daniel Hernandez, who occasionally has been used in midfield, is truly comfortable on the ball. But defenders Mike Petke and Steve Jolley can rattle teeth with their tackles, and backup Orlando Perez can get forward.

Keeper Tim Howard gives up few savable goals. He plays his angles well and has bravery, quickness and safe hands.

Several opposing coaches consider the Metros a dangerous dark horse in the playoffs. They can lift their game against tough opposition, as they've showed by beating Miami three times.

HOW YOU BEAT THEM: The Metros sometimes foul carelessly in their own half and thus must defend more than their fair share of set plays.

Midfielder Pedro Alvarez is good on the ball but has a tendency to force passes into pressure. If he drifts wide and teammates don't shift, opponents can pierce the resulting gaps.

The Metros rarely lose physical battles and 50-50 duels without extracting a price. Impatience and frustration builds when a mobile, fluid opponent retains the ball and keeps numbers back to blunt the counterattack.

They were 6-3-1 when Mathis got hurt June 5. Since, they've only managed to play .500 ball (6-6-2).



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