The Black-and-Red certainly had the correct atmosphere for the first leg of their MLS semi final with the New York Red Bulls, 19,525 fans were in attendance for the match. Unfortunately for the home side, they would fall behind in the series by one goal. In the 71st minute, New York would take the series lead off a set piece in which Dax McCarty’s diving header beat Bill Hamid. It was a tightly contested game, but the Red Bulls did what they needed to do and they left the nation’s capital with a win.
The second half of the game featured a ton of fouls and no-calls, the officials hardly ever made a decisive call especially the linesman. On simple plays, there was a delay to simply point out who’s ball it would be. The inconsistency brought on controversy midway through the half. United’s Markus Halsti was chasing down a loose ball when he was taken out by a Red Bulls defender. Many anticipated a red card to be issued after the play was over, tempers flared from both teams, but the referee simply issued a yellow. United got the ball on a set piece, but could not make the most of it. Chris Rolfe had been subbed out prior to the Halsti play in question, he addressed the incident after the game. “That’s a red card, no doubt.”
“Has all the ingredients to what they’ve been saying is a red card in this league, but that doesn’t matter all the time.” -Ben Olsen, United Head Coach
There were several chances for the home side, they just were unlucky in putting the shots on frame. They moved the Red Bulls back line fairly well, just couldn’t capitalize. The same for New York, they created a couple of great chances, Hamid saved one than the post took the brunt of a blistering shot from New York’s Kemar Lawrence. There was a whopping six minutes of stoppage time due to all of the calls and fouls in the half, where there was next to no stoppage time at the end of the first half. Even in the extra period, United struggled to put link in the final third, thus New York escaped with a 1-0 victory.
“We’re fine, down one goal.” – Chris Rolfe, United Midfielder
The only thing United could have done better of in the first half was put one in the back of the net. Coming into this game, may were worried about the backline as they haven’t been sharp in the last month. Couple that with the suspension of Bobby Boswell and that anxiety level kicked up an extra 30 notches or so. Earlier this week I mentioned that United would get a chance to see what their possible future central defense duo looks like in Steven Birnbaum and Kofi Opare. The two did a good job in the first half of being physical, covering for each other and staying on the same page for the most part. There were a few moments of heated discussions after plays, but to be expected with how much is on the line.
United’s attack was consistent enough to keep the Red Bulls on their heels early in the half, even when New York pushed forward and sustained possession there was only one big chance that the backline gave up. Of course, when Bill Hamid is the safety net, those gaffes aren’t as big. Red Bulls midfielder Mike Grella got the ball on the near post with Sean Franklin draped on his back, but Bill was able to make the sliding save and the shot went out of bounds for a throw in.
New York was doing a good job getting the ball to the middle of the field, but D.C. did a good job cutting off the passing options from that point. Bradley Wright-Phillips discovered very early on that he wasn’t going to like the physical Opare. The two got into some great position battles in the half, none of which worked out for the Red Bulls. United also did a good job sustaining possession whether it was a counter-attack or not, Alvaro Saborio truly looked happy to be back in the starting lineup and worked hard to create chances, two of his headers were just unlucky as he wasn’t able to strike them like he wanted.
The teams have a week off before meeting again for the second leg, United trails by a goal and would need to win by two goals to take the series and advance. Despite the loss, there wasn’t a feeling of a devastated team in the locker room, but one that is focused on the task at hand. To a man, D.C. feels like they can still get the job done. Just a week away from finding that out.