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MetroStars Hitting Depths of Despair

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TIMES STAFF WRITER

If ever the New York/New Jersey MetroStars needed Lothar Matthaeus, it’s today.

Having lost eight Major League Soccer games in a row, including a 4-2 defeat at home to the Columbus Crew on Wednesday night, Coach Bora Milutinovic’s foundering team desperately needs an on-field leader.

But Matthaeus won’t arrive in time. Having been signed on Tuesday to a reported one-year, $1-million contract, the captain of Germany’s national team and a 1990 World Cup winner will not leave Bayern Munich until the new year--too late to salvage this MLS season for a team that has been beaten in 14 of 15 games.

And certainly too late to play against the Galaxy tonight.

The MetroStars are 5-18 and in last place in the Eastern Conference. A loss in tonight’s 7:30 game at the Rose Bowl would leave them tied with the worst losing streak in MLS history, matching two hapless spells endured by the New England Revolution in 1996 and 1998.

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Charlie Stillitano, the Metro Stars’ general manager who has survived one miserable season after another, believes Matthaeus, 38, will turn his team around. Meanwhile, the present looms.

“We all need to take responsibility for how the team has done,” Stillitano said. “There isn’t anyone who is happy with the team’s performance, including Bora. . . . Hopefully, we can learn the lessons from this very long year so far.”

It might be up to Sasha Curcic, the tattooed Serb midfielder, to provide some spark against the Galaxy. The controversial Curcic is back from a one-game suspension imposed as the result of a red card.

The Galaxy, 14-8 and in second place in the Western Conference, also is coming off a disappointing result, having tied Necaxa of Mexico, 1-1, on Wednesday night in a CONCACAF Champions Cup qualifying match but then falling, 4-3, on penalty kicks after overtime.

“It was a tough game for us to lose, because we thought we did enough things to win the game,” said defender and team captain Robin Fraser. “We created enough opportunities and for the most part were solid defensively.”

Said Ezra Hendrickson, who scored the Galaxy goal: “Now that we’re out of this tournament, we need to focus on the rest of the season and try catching [first-place] Colorado and hopefully be there when it’s all over.”

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For the MetroStars, it already is all over. Crowds at Giants Stadium have all but disappeared. Last season, the MetroStars averaged 16,519 a game. Wednesday night’s announced attendance was 7,246.

And it will take a lot more than Matthaeus to turn that around.

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