Washington, November 10, 2010 – It was hard-fought, but the comeback was not to be. D.C. United battled to earn a 2-1 win over the New York Red Bulls before a sellout crowd of 20,118 at RFK Stadium on Saturday, but it was too little to advance in the playoffs. For the first time in club history the Red Bulls were able to beat United in a playoff series after winning the first leg 2-0 last week and claiming the series 3-2 on total goals.
Going into the game, United had it its back to the wall, needing to score two goals and keep a clean sheet, in order just to tie the series and hopefully find another goal.
It looked promising for United when Nick DeLeon headed in the opening goal in the 37th minute. But a moment of magic by Thierry Henry, who set up the tying goal for Peguy Luyindula in the second half, crushed United’s dreams of going for a fifth title. With the score at 1-1, New York’s all-important, away-goal, would be the tiebreaker if the series was tied. United now needed to score three unanswered goals to advance.
The home team was offered a glimmer of hope when the Red Bulls went down a man after Roy Miller was red-carded for a high-kick on Franklin in the 78th minute.
United made it 2-1 with a stoppage-time goal from a Sean Franklin, but it was not enough. Adding salt to United’s wounds, Espindola was red-carded at the final whistle for shoving an assistant referee.
Twelve buses of Red Bull fans had made the trip to RFK.
Chris Rolfe started for United, while designated player Eddie Johnson sat on the bench.
United pressed hard in the early going and took the game to the Red Bulls mindful that giving up an away goal would put them in a huge hole. The game was scrappy affair, with many wayward passes by each team.
In the 33rd minute Bradley Wright-Phillips shot was blocked by Bobby Boswell and the Red Bull players claimed it was handball.
United got the breakthrough they needed in the 37th minute when DeLeon headed in Taylor Kemp’s excellent cross from the right-flank. RFK erupted. Espindola began the play, feeding the ball to Kemp on the left flank near the corner flag. The rookie defender’s cross was perfect, and DeLeon, positioned on the six-yard line, saw his header bounce into the center of the net past the helpless Luis Robles. United now just needed one more goal to tie the series.
United goalie Bill Hamid pulled off a dramatic save to stop Bradley Wright-Phillips, who had blazed into the box with only Hamid to beat. Hamid made himself big and blocked the shot. It was a huge save for the home team.
United should have tied the game in the 54th minute. DeLeon played a ball into the box, but Espindola, with the goal begging, sent his header wide. Then it all went wrong for United. In the 57th minute Henry toyed with United defender Sean Franklin and then fired a low cross, which Luyindula easily side-footed past Hamid to give the Red Bulls the all-important away goal. United now needed three goals to advance.
United got one goal back to win the game when Franklin headed Steve Birnbaum’s pass, but it was all too late.
Despite the result, United had an amazing season, producing the greatest turnaround in MLS history after coming last in the standings in 2013. The club produced just 16 points last year, but finished this year’s regular season with a record 59.