On three separate occasions on Sunday afternoon, D.C. United took a lead against their bitter rivals, the New York Red Bulls. But after Paul Arriola scored in the first half, and Wayne Rooney scored halfway through the second, United gave away the lead, both times to goals from Bradley Wright-Phillips, who is the Red Bulls’ all-time leading scorer against the Black-and-Red.
When Luciano Acosta scored his 8th goal of the season in the 87th minute, there was a hope that there would be some finality to the scoring. All three points would have helped United keep pace with the Montreal Impact in the playoff race, sending United into a two week break on a high.
Instead, Wright-Phillips completed his hat trick in the 90th minute, as the teams settled for a point each in a wild 3-3 draw.
“Bradley Wright-Phillips has been a thorn in our side for quite a while,” United Head Coach Ben Olsen said after the game.
In two previous games this year, United had failed to find the back of the net against the Red Bulls. Both games ended 1-0 in favor of New York, who had handed United their first ever loss at Audi Field back in July. The Black-and-Red didn’t have any trouble in front of goal on Sunday, but at the other end, couldn’t keep BWP off the score sheet when it mattered most.
“Feels like a defeat again,” Rooney told reporters in the locker room after the game, while referencing last week’s 1-1 draw against New York City FC, in which United coughed up a late equalizer to David Villa.
That defeat feeling came from the fact that United had the three different leads against the Red Bulls. Well-taken goals from Arriola and Rooney, the 5th of the season for both, likely should have been enough for United. And since those weren’t enough, Acosta’s late tally, in which he deftly finished over Luis Robles, should have been the deciding factor in the 77th regular season meeting between the two.
Instead, in the last minute of regulation, Alex Muyl brought down a long ball from Robles, getting to the end line in the box. Wright-Phillips peeled off of his defender, and when Muyl found him, the striker smashed the ball home at the near post to share the spoils.
“Any time you get three goals at home, you should walk away with three points,” added Olsen. “We didn’t do well enough in the moments in and around the box, that you need to do against the Red Bulls.”
The dropped points on Sunday hurt even more after the Impact beat the Philadelphia Union last night, 4-1. Had both United and the Union been victorious this weekend, the Black-and-Red would have crept into that final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference with just six games remaining in the season.
Instead, they now face a four point gap.
“Everyone knows we can make a run, everyone believes it too,” midfielder Russell Canouse told reporters in the locker room after the game. “It’s a tight race. There’s a lot of pressure on the games we have coming up.”
The next game for United might be the most of important of the season. In two weeks’ time, United will host the Impact at Buzzard Point. A win won’t put United back into the playoffs, but would put them in an even better position, with a game in hand over Montreal.
United have been playing well of late, having picked up 18 points in 10 games since the start of August. But there has been little time to recover in between games, as United had to make up for a light schedule from the first half of the year.
Now they have a full two weeks to prepare for that game, a game which might determine if the club make the playoffs after missing out last year.
“I think for the lads, we’ve had a lot of games recently, and I think the break will do us well,” said Rooney. “Get a few days rest, get some training, and we’ll have a full week to prepare for the Montreal game.”