In the 54th minute of Sunday night’s Atlantic Cup clash between D.C. United and the New York Red Bulls, defender Michael Murillo tackled the ball away from Joseph Mora in the Red Bulls’ half. United quickly won possession back, but just as they did, referee David Gantar blew his whistle to check in from Murillo, who seemed to have injured himself on the tackle.
When play resumed though, Gantar had given a free kick to the Red Bulls, where United had possession before the stoppage. The Black-and-Red could never get possession back, and that allowed Kaku to fire in the only goal of the game in the 56th minute, giving the Red Bulls a 1-0 win, and the 2018 Atlantic Cup.
“The referee told me just before they scored that it wasn’t a free kick, but he needed the time to see if [Murillo] was alright, and that’s why he gave the free kick,” Wayne Rooney told reporters after the game.
“He stopped the game, and it’s a bounce ball,” added Rooney, about how the game should have been restarted. “But instead he gave them a free kick.”
Kaku’s goal wasn’t in the immediate aftermath of the free kick, and there were two opportunities where United cleared the ball away, but could not get a handle on possession. Marc Rzatkowski then sent a cross into the box that Kofi Opare headed out of the box, but Kaku gathered, and fired a shot past Bill Hamid for the only tally of the game.
But there were opportunities for United at Red Bull Arena, a place they haven’t won in since 2012, a span now of 11 games. Oniel Fisher headed a cross over the goal in the first half, and then Rooney blasted a shot off the cross bar in the 67th minute, the closest United would come to an equalizer.
“I should have scored there. I think I tried to wrap me foot around it too much,” Rooney said after the game. “And I got too much height on it.”
The loss ended United’s streak of three wins in a row, and five consecutive games in which the Black-and-Red have picked up points. But in a place that has been full of horrors over the past couple of years, United seemed to acquit themselves better, even if the result didn’t bear that out.
“It’s a game where he had a few chances, and we should get something out of the game,” Head Coach Ben Olsen told reporters after the game. “They made the play that mattered.”
The loss also ensured that the Red Bulls would claim the 2018 Atlantic Cup trophy, the second year in a row that they have won the honor. And though United will be disappointed at the result for a number of reasons, there isn’t much time to hang their heads.
On Wednesday, United host the Philadelphia Union, in a game that means a bit more to United’s season. The Union are on of three teams that United is realistically chasing to earn a spot in the 2018 MLS Playoffs, and dropped points at Audi Field midweek would be a bad result for the Black-and-Red.
“There’s not a lot of time to dwell on this one,” said Olsen. “It’s more about getting our bodies back, and getting ready for Wednesday.”
One body that United might not be able to count on after Sunday’s game is Yamil Asad. The team’s joint top scorer this year went down with a left ankle injury after a fair challenge from Kemar Lawrence late in the first half. Asad stayed on for the rest of the half, noticeably limping, and unable to complete a couple of runs.
Asad came back out on the field to start the second half, but didn’t last much longer, quickly getting replaced by Zoltan Stieber. The extent of Asad’s injury has to be determined, but he did have a bag of ice wrapped around his left ankle in the locker room after the game.
Despite the set back against the Red Bulls, United didn’t seemed too shaken after the performance. On another night, maybe they grab a point. That doesn’t do much for a moral victory for a team that is in need of actual victories, but one loss won’t shake this team’s confidence right now.
“We are confident in what we are doing,” midfielder Paul Arriola told B&RU after the game. “Philly is coming in hot, but its extremely important to get three points. Because in the end, it can be a deciding factor in whether we make the playoffs or not.”