I think it’s safe to assume that D.C. United’s 1-0 win and 2-1 aggregate goal win over New York Red Bull this evening in the semi-final round of the Major League Soccer playoffs will go down in league and team lore. Nick DeLeon’s 88th minute strike was enough to send United to the Eastern Conference Finals where they will take on the #5 seed Houston Dynamo in a two-legged series starting this Sunday afternoon in Houston. The return leg will be at RFK next Wednesday or Thursday evening.
Stunning would be an understatement not only to United’s result tonight, but the series in general which had so many talking points off the field of play which included a venue switch and subsequent loss of home field advantage for United due to Hurricane Sandy as well as a very late and not well received postponement of this second leg last night due to a 6-inch snowfall. Throw in the two own goals, three red cards, two saved/missed penalties and of course the obligatory Marc Geiger penalty kick retake (see Kharma in the dictionary – Red Bull got the business end of that cruel mistress).
Throw all that in the wash and out comes a playoff series that won’t be forgotten any time soon by any fan of MLS.
With the series tied 1-1 heading into the match this evening, both teams were playing it safe from the beginning. United had a chance in the 3rd minute but Lionard Pajoy’s impatience produced a fine save from Red Bull goalkeeper Luis Robles. That was pretty much it for United’s attacking forays in the first half. United goalkeeper Bill Hamid wasn’t too busy in the first half either but did produce two solid saves to send the match to halftime still tied at 0-0 on the night.
After the break Red Bull starting amping up the pressure. Bill Hamid made a sensational one-v-one save versus former United midfielder Dax McCarty deep in the penalty area to preserve the 0-0 scoreline.
Then all Hell broke loose.
Bill Hamid was given a straight red card for a take down of Kenny Cooper just inside the penalty area in the 69th minute. After the dust settled, Joe Willis came in for Hamid and promptly saw Cooper go right down the middle to give Red Bull a 1-0 lead. However, in a situation seemingly straight from Hollywood, referee Marc Geiger called for a retake of the penalty as Thierry Henry and two team mates encroached into the area. Geiger was the same official who made the same call at RFK a few months ago when Dwayne De Rosario’s apparent game-winning penalty kick against the Philadelphia Union was called back.
Just like in that match, the goalkeeper made the subsequent penalty retake and gave life to United. Less than five minutes later Red Bull defender Rafa Marquez was given his marching orders after a vicious tackle on Chris Pontius to even up the sides at 10 each. With the sides now even, United simply was looking to take the match to extra-time when out of nowhere they fashioned the game-winner.
In the 88th minute, Pajoy made a crucial cross-field switch of the attack that hit Robbie Russell, in for the suspended Andy Najar, right in stride. The defender took a deft touch towards the middle of the field and slotted a ball into the penalty area. Red Bull defender Conor Lade easily kept Nick DeLeon onside and DeLeon’s right-footed blast whizzed past Robles for the 1-0 lead and 2-1 aggregate series lead.
With no time to spare Red Bull sent everyone forward and had a golden opportunity to tie the game in the 90th minute. Perry Kitchen was called for a foul just at the top of the penalty area just outside the arc. With everyone in the stadium knowing that World Cup winner and excellent free-kick taker Thierry Henry was pegged for the spotlight, substitute defender Roy Miller flummoxed everyone by ghosting in and sending his left-footed shot well over the bar.
That pretty much sums up the playoff history between D.C. United and New York Red Bull/Metrostars. United now has won all four lifetime playoff series against New York and has a total record of 6-1-2 in nine playoff matches.