In a wild end to a wild series, United came out on top. But only after a Bill Hamid red card, a penalty kick infraction with an ensuing save from Joe Willis, and a magical assist from Robbie Russell to Nick DeLeon.
If you've been following D.C. United closely this year, this match shouldn't have surprised you. Nothing United does is pretty, they've never been mistaken for the most impressive team in MLS, but they just effing win. This series against the New York Red Bulls was never going to be easy for D.C. Nothing ever is.
The storyline couldn't have been written any better: overcoming the odds and the adversity suffered in the last week, Mark Geiger being amazingly consistent in his infraction calls to even out the bad karma that plagued us against the Union earlier this year, the late late game-winning goal from Nick DeLeon.
The contrast between these two teams was evidenced quite plainly last night. Ben Olsen wanted to play soccer in any conditions. Hans Backe won't to delay his imminent demise. But perhaps an even better contrast can been seen when viewing tonight's goal celebration from DeLeon, and comparing it to what we typically see from Thierry Henry. Henry is known for either hanging his head and walking back to the center of the field, or celebrating by pointing to his own name on the back of his jersey. DeLeon ran towards the United fans in the upper deck, repeatedly pounded the United badge on his shirt, then hugged every teammate in sight.
Winning the 2012 MLS Cup will be this team's greatest accomplishment - greater than winning three of the first four MLS Cups, greater than being the only American team to win a CONCACAF crown. From a talent standpoint, this 2012 United team is nothing compared to the teams in 1997 or 2004. Hell, they're nothing compared to the talent on the LA Galaxy or the Seattle Sounders. Apparently, talent doesn't matter all that much though. Heart matters. No one's got a bigger one than Olsen. And as Kevin Payne told reporters after the game, "Money can't buy character."
United has heaps of character and heaps of heart. Far more of each than the Red Bulls. But we might not necessarily have the same significant advantage over the Houston Dynamo, a team that has had our number so far this season. It won't matter. Three games to go and this team is lifting another cup. Three game to go and we'll have our fifth star.