D.C. United was four stoppage time minutes away from going back to the MLS playoffs. By virtue of Toronto’s awful gag job (5-0 loss to Red Bull) and Real Salt Lake’s comprehensive 3-0 win over Colorado, United was in position to advance to the postseason with a win. Julius James, hobbled with an injured hamstring, leaped over a Kansas City defender in the 82nd minute and headed home a weak clearance from Kevin Hartman and gave United brief hope that they pulled off the improbable come from behind win.
However, a stoppage time red card issued to Fred for intentionally keeping a goal bound ball out of the net with his right elbow set the stage for Claudio Lopez’ penalty conversion in the 2-2 draw tonight at Comerica Ballpark in Kansas City, Kansas this evening. Rodney Wallace had a right-footed effort sting the inside of the post after the equalizer from Lopez that would have certainly seen the Black-and-Red through to the playoffs. As it stands now, United will need one scenario and one scenario only to advance to the playoffs. A Dallas draw in Seattle and a New England loss in Columbus. While both results are not out of the realm of possibility, as of this publishing, FC Dallas had a 1-0 lead in Seattle late in the first half of their match.
United came out of the game playing the obviously more attentive soccer as the Wizards had been eliminated last weekend. Julius James had a header go off the far post and Christian Gomez, later subbed out in the first half after suffering a clash of heads, missed narrowly wide. The Wizards then stepped up and got the games first goal in the 30th minute. Graham Zuisi (from Maryland) sent in a free kick that Kei Kamara got a diving header to and glanced it past United goalkeeper Steve Cronin for a 1-0 lead that held up through halftime.
After the restart, United obviously were in dire straights and got the game leveled on a rather dodgy penalty call mid-way through the second half. Fred was patrolling the right sideline and cut into the box and seemed to go down without much contact. The referee bought the move and MLS’ all-time leader in both penalty conversions and goal scoring, Jaime Moreno, stepped up and was fortunate to beat Hartman as he got a glove on the shot but it still trickled past and the match was level at 1-1.
Later in the match, United defender Julius James suffered a hamstring injury when tracking back to defend a Wizards counter attack. The Trinidadian defender was out of the match for a few minutes and with United having used all their subs was forced to move James up top as not to have an injured player on their 3-man back line. United was awarded a free kick in the 82nd minute and when Hartman mishit his clearance, the injured but clearly athletic James rose way above the ground and easily nodded the ball into the empty net to set off a raucous celebration as it seemed United just might have pulled the rabbit out of the hat.
It was not to be however as the Wizards clawed their way back. In the 90th minute the Wizards had a corner kick and United struggled to clear the ball out and with a shot heading for the empty net, Fred stuck out his elbow and left referee Jair Marrufo no choice in showing the red card and pointing to the spot. United’s season started out on a dodgy penalty call against them and most likely also ended on a penalty called against them. Quite a turnaround considering United didn’t give up a penalty all of last season.
Now it’s a waiting game for United.