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D.C. United can’t solve New York Red Bulls, falling 2-0 at home

NYRB gave United a taste of their own medicine, sitting deep and leaning on set pieces and counters to take three points at Audi Field

MLS: New York Red Bulls at D.C. United Leah Stauffer-USA TODAY Sports

D.C. United took some heat for two straight defense-first outings, but despite a more attack-minded approach, they fell 2-0 at home to the New York Red Bulls at Audi Field. Goals on either side of halftime from Aaron Long and Daniel Royer allowed the visitors to get revenge for a United win in New Jersey ten days ago.

After seeing his team struggle to create offense in the last two games, United boss Ben Olsen opted to change formations, deploying new signing Gelmin Rivas up front with Ola Kamara in a diamond 442. Chris Odoi-Atsem came in at right back for his first start since the club’s MLS is Back group stage finale in late July. Chris Seitz remained the starter in goal, though normal first choice goalkeeper Bill Hamid made the gameday squad after missing three straight matches.

The shift in formation came with a shift in intent, with United owning most of the possession and looking far more interested in attacking than in recent games. However, an uncharacteristically conservative Red Bulls side congested the field, and the game’s first shot attempt didn’t arrive until the 24th minute. It was the Black-and-Red’s first credited shot since Erik Sorga’s game-winner at Red Bull Arena ten days ago.

However promising United’s early possession was, it couldn’t cover for poor set piece defending, which has bit United more than once over the past month. Kaku’s service from 35 yards was on the money, and the Red Bulls managed to drag everyone away from Aaron Long, who was completely unmarked to head past Chris Seitz in the 29th minute.

The goal shook something loose for United, who really should have gotten level on one of two chances in the 37th minute. First, Rivas chased down a long ball before teeing Julian Gressel up. Unmarked, Gressel opted to take one too many touches, but still saw his shot kick-saved by Ryan Meara before pinging into defender Sean Nealis, who unwittingly deflected the ball wide of goal. On the ensuing corner, Rivas went for a spectacular scissor kick, but Meara did enough to fight the shot off.

The second half continued on in roughly this vein, but once again United coughed up a goal that was simply too easy. The Red Bulls pulled United off to one side before freeing up Jason Pendant on the left, where the wingback picked out a wide open Daniel Royer with a cross. Royer had plenty of time to size up a volley that he fired past Seitz from 10 yards, doubling NYRB’s lead in the 60th minute.

Olsen looked to his bench to change the game, bringing in Sorga, Oniel Fisher, and Federico Higuain in the minutes following the second goal. Sorga forced substitute goalkeeper David Jensen — in after Meara appeared to injure his thigh earlier in the half — to tip a long-range shot over the bar, while at the other end Royer got a chance to make it 3-0 all wrong, skying a shot after the Red Bulls caught DCU with numbers upfield.

United brought in Ulises Segura and Yamil Asad, often leaving Frederic Brillant and Donovan Pines alone at the back, but they couldn’t find the precision to match their intentions. On the other side, interim head coach Bradley Carnell moved his side into a 541, giving the Black-and-Red a taste of their own medicine by sitting deep and playing safe. In truth, United almost gave up a third, with Seitz managing to block a Brian White shot with his chest well outside his penalty area in the 86th minute.

Higuain finally solved the Red Bulls’ back five in the 90th minute, playing Sorga through a seam, but the Estonian’s shot zipped wide as NYRB appealed to referee Marcos DeOliveira for a handball on the Argentine veteran.

That represented United’s one good look late on, though, as the visitors effectively killed the game off without much worry. United, now with one win in nine games, have a week to sort it out before their next match, a home game against Toronto FC (Saturday, September 19, 7:00pm kickoff).

Box Score

MLS Regular Season - Game 11
D.C. United 0
NY Red Bulls 2 (Long 29, Royer 60)

DCU (4312): Chris Seitz; Chris Odoi-Atsem (Oniel Fisher 61), Frederic Brillant (C), Donovan Pines, Joseph Mora (Federico Higuain 67); Julian Gressel (Yamil Asad 75), Junior Moreno, Mohammed Abu; Kevin Paredes; Gelmin Rivas (Erik Sorga 61), Ola Kamara (Ulises Segura 75)

NYRB (532): Ryan Meara (C) (David Jensen 62); Kyle Duncan, Sean Nealis, Tim Parker, Aaron Long, Jason Pendant; Cristian Casseres Jr., Kaku Gamarra (Jared Stroud 77), Dru Yearwood (Florian Valot 53); Mathias Jorgensen (Brian White 62), Daniel Royer (Ben Mines 77)

DCU - None
NYRB - Long 42, Casseres Jr. 65