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D.C. United escape NYCFC with a point in 1-1 draw

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Steven Birnbaum and David Villa traded goals as United gave away the lead late

D.C. United couldn’t hold onto a late lead against New York City FC, but walked away with their first-ever point at Yankee Stadium in a 1-1 draw on Saturday afternoon. Steven Birnbaum gave the Black-and-Red a surprise lead in the 58th minute, but NYCFC finally broke through in the 86th minute on a direct free kick from David Villa.

Due to injuries and international absences, head coach Ben Olsen only had a squad of 15 players for the game. There were only three changes to the starting lineup from last week’s win over Atlanta United. Jalen Robinson, Chris Durkin, and Ian Harkes were all handed starts, replacing three of United’s international players. The bench only went four deep, and included Kevin Ellis, who was signed as a free agent this week.

United had never earned as much as a point at Yankee Stadium, but started out with the first half-chance of the game, as Robinson sent a cross into the box from the right in the 2nd minute. Wayne Rooney lined up a bicycle kick, but what was United’s only shot of the first stanza was off the mark.

Two minutes later, a turnover from United turned into trouble, as Maxi Moralez played the ball into the box for Villa. Bringing down the lofted pass, Villa smashed the ball towards the near post, forcing Bull Hamid to push the shot wide for a corner.

Hamid was put to the test again in the 11th minute, as Valentin Castellanos collected Anton Tinnerholm’s pass near the corner of the box before shooting quickly, forcing Hamid to palm the ball back away from goal.

United had a shout for a penalty in the 25th minute, after Tinnerholm picked up a yellow for impeding Acosta with an elbow in midfield. Acosta lined up like he would serve the free kick in, but kept it low for Rooney. The England legend was taken down by James Sands just as he got to the ball. However, despite appeals from United, there was no call for a penalty by referee Kevin Stott, and no review in the VAR booth.

After a half-clearance from United on a corner, Eloi Amagat had an opportunity to deliver the ball back into the box for the Pigeons. The midfielder’s service found the head of Alexander Callens but with just Hamid to beat, the defender steered his header wide of the goal in the 27th minute.

Castellanos was denied by Hamid again in the 30th minute, and then in the 32nd minute, Villa shot wide at the near post after a feed from Moralez. Russell Canouse conceded a foul in midfield in the 40th minute, and then headed Moralez’s free kick towards his own goal, but the ball fell harmlessly on the top of the net.

New York City stayed on top as the second half started, as Ronald Matarrita found an opening outside of the box. The Costa Rican’s low effort got through United’s defense, but Hamid was able to get low to his left and make the save.

NYCFC had a penalty shout of their own in the 57th minute, only to also be denied by Stott. It appeared that Durkin in fact clipped Villa in the box, but the referee waved off protests, as United quickly broke the other way through Rooney.

Rooney tried to find Acosta in the attacking half, but the play was called back, as Stott gave United a free kick. After some more complaints about the no-call, Rooney lofted the ball into the box, where it appeared goalkeeper Sean Johnson would come down comfortably with the ball. Instead though, Birnbaum leaped in front of the keeper, and headed in to give the Black-and-Red a shock 58th minute lead.

City nearly got the game level in the 61st minute, but Moralez wasted a good opportunity in front of goal. A cross from the left went all the way to the right side, where Tinnerholm bounced a cross into the goalmouth. Moralez was there, but the ball was a bit too high for his volley attempt, and the Argentine scuffed his bid wide.

On his favored left foot, Matarrita once again tested Hamid in the 68th minute, forcing the keeper to concede a corner with an awkward save.

The chances started to come in droves for NYC, as they pushed hard for an equalizer. Ulises Segura conceded a free kick just outside the box in the 75th minute, but Villa’s low bid was deflected out for a corner. Sweat then had a cross deflected by Hamid, but Matarrita could only nod it wide. Later, Tinnerholm’s bouncing effort may have been heading in, but Birnbaum’s 77th minute header made sure the score remained 1-0.

Ellis came on for Harkes to make his debut, replacing the homegrown player in midfield. Domè Torrent countered by bringing on Jonathan Lewis for Sands, moving to a 433.

Hamid made saves on Villa and Amagat as the pressure continued to pile on the Black-and-Red. It seemed like they might just escape with an unlikely win, until Villa was given a chance from a free kick outside the box. Hamid got fingertips to Villa’s shot in the 86th minute, but could not keep the well-placed shot out, as the Spaniard’s 11th goal of the season tied up the game.

Tinnerholm had a decent look at a winner in the last minute of regulation, smashing a shot towards goal that was too hot for Hamid to handle cleanly. Birnbaum reacted quickly though, clearing the danger away before NYCFC could pounce on the loose ball.

United, with 31 points from 26 games, return to action on Wednesday, hosting Minnesota United at Audi Field.