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The last word on D.C. United vs New York Red Bulls: For want of an away goal

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D.C. United won the game on Saturday, but lost the Eastern Conference semifinals series to the New York Red Bulls. The difference was an away goal. Oh for an away goal!

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

In an attacking display led by Nick DeLeon, Taylor Kemp, and Fabian Espindola, D.C. United defeated the New York Red Bulls 2-1 at RFK Stadium on Saturday afternoon in the second leg of Eastern Conference semifinals.  It was a performance befitting the regular-season conference champions, and there were moments in which the Black-and-Red came oh-so-close to scoring even more goals.  In the end, however, the goal they conceded to New York had the practical effect of two goals due to the away-goal rule, and D.C. United was unable to dig out of their aggregate-goal deficit.  What D.C. United needed was to score their own away goal, but they didn't get it in the first leg, and for want of an away goal, their opportunity to move on in the 2014 playoffs came to an end.

Their Words:

- Steven Goffvia washingtonpost.com:  "D.C. United's prospects of an epic playoff comeback against the New York Red Bulls swung decisively in the space of three minutes early in the second half Saturday amid a madhouse at RFK Stadium. A diving header by United missed by a whisker. New York's French maestro set up a countryman. And just like that, D.C.'s renaissance season shattered. United won the match, 2-1, but in a two-game Eastern Conference semifinal series determined by total goals, it was not enough. "We miss a chance," captain Bobby Boswell said. "They finish a chance."...United, which won the regular season conference title, was done in by more than just Luyindula's equalizer. It was beaten by its performance in the first leg, one of the club's worst of the year. "I wish we would've played like that in the first game," goalkeeper Bill Hamid said after the stirring effort Saturday."

Ryan Keefer:  "After their 2-0 loss to the New York Red Bulls last week, to a man D.C. United expressed frustration at their lackluster performance, and over the course of the week vowed that they would not, were not, going to be training at RFK Stadium for one last time. And while they started promising, the performance of last week reared its ugly head again, giving up a vital away goal. The Black and Red won 2-1 but lost on aggregate 3-2, in front of a sellout crowd of 20,187 at RFK...New York moves on to go to either play the Columbus Crew or New England Revolution, dependent on the result of their second leg match. D.C. gets to rue what was in the first leg as the offseason begins early for them, with an early start to camp on the back end as the CONCACAF Champions League knockout stage beckons in February."

- Charles Boehmvia mlssoccer.com:  "The 20,187 fans at RFK watched with bated breath as DC nearly leveled the series when DeLeon turned provider in the 54th minute. Swiveling into space down the right flank, his teasing delivery was met in the goalmouth by a diving Fabian Espindola, but the Argentine's header flew just wide of the left post. That wastefulness was harshly punished just three minutes later. Thierry Henry had been downright invisible all afternoon, but the French star dealt United a hammer blow out of nothing as he strolled past Franklin down the left channel and laid a inch-perfect service into the path of his countryman Luyindula at the near post. Luyindula clipped his finish past goalkeeper Bill Hamid, New York were level on the scoreboard and RFK was stunned into silence as the home side found themselves with a mountain to climb. The Red Bulls' precious away goal meant that D.C., down 3-1 on aggregate, would need three goals to salvage their MLS Cup hopes...This marks the third straight year that the top-seeded team in the Eastern Conference was unable to escape the conference semifinals, after both New York (2013) and Kansas City (2012) were uspet early on the road to MLS Cup."

MLSsoccer.com Men of the Match:

Rank Player What We Saw
1 Peguy Luyindula He didn't just net the all-important away goal: His pressing and defensive savvy were pivotal in New York killing off the second leg.
2 Jamison Olave The big Colombian center back was a rock at the back as his team weathered attacks from a desperate D.C. side.
3 Nick DeLeon Brought the energy and intensity his team needed -- scored one and nearly set up the series equalizer before it all fell apart.

- Ben Olsenvia dcunited.com:  "I'm gutted for the guys, obviously. They gave us everything today and we fell short. They're [New York] a good team and hard to keep off the board. You have to be perfect, in particular when you're going for the second goal and what would have been the third, you have to make all the plays on the other side, and they found their goal. But overall, I'm extremely pleased in their effort tonight and the performance they put on. I'm sure we'll look back sometime soon and say that this was a good season and pat ourselves on the back, but right now it doesn't feel great...The future is bright with this team. You know if we can keep this group together for a few years, I think we'll be seeing success on nights like this. It doesn't make it less tough right now."

- New York Red Bulls coach Mike Petkevia dcunited.com:  "This is a series that in years past we would have lost. These guys showed determination--we had guys with a bloody lip, guys getting stitches and a guy with a lump on his head--these guys gave it their all and I'm really proud of them and they earned the right to be in the conference finals."

- Nick DeLeonvia dcunited.comOn elimination after successful turn-around season. "Yeah, it's pretty disappointing. A lot of guys feel, I don't know, pretty bad about the way we came out in the first leg. You know, it was a poor performance. They already made it a tough mountain for use to climb in the game, but overall I think we had a great season. Unfortunately, we couldn't get the results when we needed to, but it was a good season overall looking back at it."

- New York Red Bulls midfielder Dax McCartyvia dcunited.com:  "The first half I think they played very well. They had good tactics, they were very aggressive and I think to a certain extent we forgot how to play a little bit. We didn't really want the ball, we were a little timid and our movement wasn't really there. I think they took advantage of that and they scored a really nice goal. Second half we were aggressive; we really wanted to score that away goal. Long ball after long ball, guys are bleeding, guys are sore, but it's all worth it at the end of the day cause we're through to the conference final, we're excited about it and it's a big step for this club."

- Chris Rolfevia dcunited.com:  "I think it was a great season for everybody involved. Again, a little disappointing towards the end of the season, and that's why I think that first leg left such a bitter taste in my mouth. We have so much potential and so much that was going right for us all season long and then just to come out like that in the most important game was really frustrating."

- New York Red Bulls midfielder Thierry Henryvia dcunited.com:  "This one goes to the fans because I'm sure they had enough of that, losing to DC, but on a personal point of view, and I'm sure it is the same with them, we haven't done anything yet. You know, you want to go all the way. You have to give DC a lot of credit, they had an amazing season. We were in the same situation last year and lost in the first round so things happen. It will go down in history as the first time we've beaten DC in the playoffs, but that's it. We have to go forward, try to concentrate, stay committed in what's coming next."

- Ben Olsenvia dcunited.com: On this group and what the off season brings. "You're always going to have turnover, right? From a core standpoint, this team can be around for several years for sure. Some guys are going to get older and some guys are going to retire and move on or we lose someone in the expansion draft--those things happen and we'll have to replace those guys. The core is good, the character is right with this group."

My Words:

D.C. United played 3,240 minutes of meaningful soccer in MLS this season.  And in the end, the failure to score during the 90 minutes in Harrison for the first leg of the Eastern Conference semifinals brought United's season to an end.  The impact of this one unscored goal, when weighed across the totality of the entire season and compared to the 54 goals they did score throughout the regular season and playoffs, while conceding only 40, demonstrates how championships are built upon both consistency over the long haul, and excellence and execution (and luck) in fleeting individual moments which demand to be seized.

It reminds me of an old proverb on the impact of the smallest detail on the fate of the largest campaign.

For want of a nail the shoe was lost.
For want of a shoe the horse was lost.
For want of a horse the rider was lost.
For want of a rider the battle was lost.
For want of a battle the kingdom was lost.
And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.

For the want of an away goal, D.C. United's season came to an end too soon.

The Last Word:

Much will be written and analyzed in the days and weeks ahead about the 2014 season, one of the most extraordinary years in D.C. United history.  No, the team didn't win a trophy, but they are still in the hunt for one due to their inspired strategy and play this year in CONCACAF Champions League (CCL).  Perhaps fittingly, the next competitive games D.C. United play will be in the CCL quarterfinals next February, even before the 2015 MLS season kicks off in March.

We will remember 2014 as the season D.C. United rebounded off the historically low lows of the 2013 season.  It will also be remembered as the second year out of three in which the team was competitive throughout the season and finished in the top three for the Supporters' Shield.  But, we fans of the Black-and-Red lived through the offseason between the 2012 and 2013 seasons, so the number one issue we will be watching over the next few months is whether Ben Olsen and General Manager Dave Kasper have learned from their experience and will continue to aggressively improve the team and move it forward.  But, we have an entire offseason to discuss this issue.

Until then, in the twilight of D.C. United's inspired victory against New York, which tragically proved insufficient for the want of an away goal, my last words for the players, the coaches, and the entire D.C. United organization are, "Thank you. Thank you for a great season!"

What's your last word on D.C. United's 2014 season?