D.C. United’s failure to get past the Columbus Crew in last night’s MLS Cup Playoff knockout round game is going to sting for some time. Everything seemed to favor the Black-and-Red going into the game, given the team’s form, and the fact that Audi Field was hosting it’s first ever playoff game.
It just wasn’t in the cards though for the Black-and-Red. United dropped their second consecutive playoff decision at home, the last coming back in 2016, when United lost the knockout round game 4-2 against the Montreal Impact at RFK Stadium.
The lottery of the penalty shootout went against United, with Zack Steffen stopping penalties from Wayne Rooney and Luciano Acosta, before Nick DeLeon sent his kick into the stands with a chance to extend the penalties. DeLeon was downtrodden after the game in the locker room, which is even more unfortunate, considering the right back’s heroics in extra time.
2018 will be remembered for plenty of magical moments for United, and DeLeon provided the final one. It had been two years since DeLeon scored, when he notched a goal in 2016 in a 6-2 win over the Chicago Fire. So when he lined up after a clearance from Gyasi Zardes, a goal seemed unlikely.
Instead, DeLeon produced this wonder.
It just had to be @NickDeLeon7! We're level at @AudiField!#DCvCLB // @Audi #MLSCupPlayoffs https://t.co/uiwvnDE6zM— Major League Soccer (@MLS) November 2, 2018
Another clutch playoff goal in the career of Nick DeLeon #DCvCLB (via @UnivisionSports) pic.twitter.com/bVIxZVowuD— Planet Fútbol (@si_soccer) November 2, 2018
DeLeon had already etched his name in United’s postseason lore back in his rookie year of 2012. The playoff series against the New York Red Bulls was all sorts of wild that year. First, the teams swapped the order of the two games, after Hurricane Sandy did extensive damage in NYC area. Then, in the first leg, Chris Pontius had a penalty saved, before Roy Miller and Bill Hamid exchanged own goals in a 1-1 draw.
Hamid then got sent off in the second leg, which was delayed by a day thanks to a freak snow storm in Harrison, New Jersey. That moment produced the famous video of Hamid losing his mind after getting sent off and conceding the penalty in the hallway at Red Bull Arena.
Kenny Cooper converted the penalty, but Mark Geiger called for an encroachment infraction on the Red Bulls. On the retake, Cooper had his penalty saved by Joe Willis, keeping United level on aggregate. Rafael Marquez then got sent off to even the playing field, setting the stage for DeLeon’s heroics.
DeLeon, in the 88th minute, toed the offside line, and raced onto a pass into the box from Robbie Russell. Firing first time, DeLeon beat Luis Robles to the near post, giving United the series victory.
The goal against the Crew won’t have the same sweet taste to it, given how the game eventually played out. But for a player who missed four months due to injury this year, and gives his heart and soul every time he hits the field wearing the Black-and-Red, it was a moment to cherish.
Here are a couple of shots from the stands of DeLeon’s goals.
Nick DeLeon tying goal at the end of second OT, as seen from the #AudiField nosebleed section - lots to cheer for this year. Thank you #DCU #DCUnited #VamosUnited #MLSCupPlayoffs #DCvCLB pic.twitter.com/HCwmTKYJHx— C.S. (@vamom92) November 2, 2018
And here’s one last video, which does well to encapsulate what it was like at Audi Field last night. Simply, the atmosphere, the engagement from the crowd, was unbelievable for 120 minutes. The building was rocking after DeLeon’s goal, but there was energy throughout. This video from Pablo Maurer came near the end of the 90 minutes. United had a free kick, and everyone in the stadium was on their feet, trying to will United to victory.
It wasn’t to be, but the sight was one to behold nonetheless.
Truly fantastic in here right now. #DCU pic.twitter.com/GEqFX7zbg3— Pablo Maurer (@MLSist) November 2, 2018