It was there for the taking. The New York Red Bulls dominated possession but rarely did anything with it, firing only two shots on target. Then again, D.C. United didn't do much either, only putting five attempts of their own on target. That said, the Metros got the road draw they were looking for in the rescheduled first leg of this playoff series, and United now have to go to Red Bull Arena (probably) and earn a result. Luckily, "results" is basically all this team has been doing for the last two months. Let's see what the writers are saying about the 1-1 draw on Saturday night at RFK:
What They're Saying About It
Shatzer: D.C. United left a lot of plays on the field tonight in a 1-1 tie with the New York Red Bulls. It was the first match of a two-legged playoff series that will see United travel to New Jersey on Wednesday. United took the lead in the 61st minute when a cross from Chris Korb was deflected into the New York goal by Roy Miller, a player who we all hope to see starting the next leg. United's lead didn't last long though, as Bill Hamid tipped a ball from Heath Pearce just over the line while under pressure.
Webb: United then had to hold on for the final twenty minutes when the normally stoic Andy Najar got himself sent off with a double-yellow card infraction. Najar had just received an admittedly soft yellow card from referee Jair Marrufo and showed his displeasure of the call by throwing the ball back at the ref. Marrufo had no choice but to produce a second yellow and now one of United’s biggest assets will miss the second leg on Wednesday night.
Goff: Tying at home in a two-game series is often regarded as a loss, but United remained upbeat about its chances. "There’s still 90 minutes to go," midfielder Perry Kitchen said. "Our heads are up."
Davis: The match produced a lot of "good," and just a little bit of "pretty good." The men who helped create D.C. United’s goal, left back Chris Korb and striker Lionard Pajoy, both offered something in effort and trouble-making for the opposition, for instance. But it was Red Bulls goalkeeper Luis Robles who contributed perhaps one or two more significant moments, saving five times for the visitors.
Boehm: Pontius is inevitably wearing the goat’s horns Saturday night thanks to his telegraphed penalty kick being saved by Robles. But that should not obscure the fact that United’s captain was unstoppable for long stretches along his team’s left flank, with neither Lade nor midfielder Dax McCarty able to defend him alone. United looked their best when constantly switching fields with booming diagonal balls to isolate Pontius on Lade. On the opposite wing, DeLeon wasn’t quite as dominant against Heath Pearce and Miller, but he’s got to feel good about his chances should Miller line up against him at Red Bull Arena.
What I'm Saying About It
In the stands at RFK, the loudest shouts of the night were all directed at referee Jair Marrufo, who is universally considered one of the poorest refs in the MLS pool. How he landed a playoff assignment over literally anybody else is a bit baffling. All this is by way of saying that Marrufo did not have a good night by most fans' standards. At the outset, I'll give the man credit for waiting to see if advantage developed after Connor Lade's handling of the ball; when none developed, he called the penalty. That's about where the plaudits end, though. Markus Holgersson's "bump" (read: "hip check") on Bill Hamid, which led to the equalizing own goal, should have been called a foul. If you've watched more than a trifling amount of soccer, you've seen less contact whistled because protecting goalkeepers as they jump for high balls is a high priority in any soccer league (and in American football, too, if you replace "goalkeepers' with "wide receivers"). There is no doubt in anybody's mind - save for Marrufo - that Metros keeper Luis Robles handled a back pass from a teammate late in the second half. Andy Najar screwed up, and his throwing the ball at the ref is inexcusable, but his anger (not the actions is precipitated) was understandable for the sheer number of close (and less close) calls that went against the Black-and-Red like clockwork.
All that said, refereeing is not the big story from Saturday night. United's mistakes are still the lede today. And that's the way it should be. United can't change the refereeing, but they can correct the mistakes that led to the disappointing draw at home. What's more, Marrufo won't be the man in the middle during the "return" leg in "New York," and the blown calls need to be put out of the coaches' and players' minds yesterday. The Metros aren't going to play nearly as much in their own half in their own park. They'll be more aggressive and direct than they were on Saturday, and that means they're likely to be more open to the counter attack if United can get the transition game going. That's all going to start with defensive effort front-to-back, and on short rest to boot. United are going to need to get a result while playing with a changed back four for the first time since Dwayne De Rosario's injury. The first 10 minutes of the first leg were all United - which has been the story every time these teams have played this season - and we need that to be the case one last time. It's time to go back to work, for the team and for the fans heading up I-95 on Wednesday - and there will be a lot of us.