With our backs against the wall, we need to make some adjustments if we're going to beat Red Bull and advance to the Eastern Conference Finals. I'm pretty sure I've picked us to win each time against them this year, so I'm going to make an adjustment as well. A goal by DeLeon offsets a Bradley Wright-Phillips goal and we draw 1-1. However, that won't be enough and Red Bull advances.
Now, prove me wrong fellas!
You heard Jason say on this week's Filibuster that the Black-and-Red will need to strike first if they're going to have a chance to advance. I think they come out and go for that road goal at the outset, but Rolfe and Espindola both just miss. New York manages to sneak one in late in the first half, causing United to throw everything at the wall in the second 45. We'll see Nick DeLeon score at Red Bull Arena, but it won't be enough. 1-1, and I am sad.
Is the trip to New Jersey just a formality? Did the DCU season end when the resurrected Chris Pontius pulled whatever it was he pulled in the New England game, causing him to miss the first leg of this DC-NY series? I want to say no so badly. But the answer is yes. We needed two goals at RFK last weekend to keep hope alive, going to NY with their explosive offense. We got zero. I said at the beginning of the season, even when somehow DC was atop the table, that NYRB would likely win the MLS Cup. The only thing that really stands in their way now is Didier Drogba, who wasn't around back then. An early NY goal will take the wind out of DC's sails entirely. DC will struggle with possession. Desperation will turn to resignation. The Red Bulls prevail 2-0 this weekend. I haz the sadz.
While folks are up in arms about Ronald Zubar not getting a suspension for leg 2, but there is the consideration that with Zubar in the lineup, the Metros' back line may be a little more susceptible to quality scoring chances. Then the question becomes, will Fabian Espindola, Chris Rolfe and Alvaro Saborio do anything about it? As of this writing, Chris Pontius and Sean Franklin still haven't practiced, so that's the right side of the field is gone, and to belabor a point, D.C. barely scores on the road, and barely has scored in Red Bull Arena the last three years. 2-0 Metros, good night, you princes of RFK, you kings of Washington, D.C.
I was already worried about the away leg of this, and that was when I thought the Black-and-Red would win their home leg. Welp, that sure didn't happen. There's only one goal to make up, sure, but DCU have been awful on the road this season and particularly awful against the the Red Bulls. There isn't a universe in which I see a clean sheet for the visitors, and ultimately I can't see them making up enough goals to advance, either. A 1-1 result makes us all feel extra bad about ourselves because of how close we were to something awesome. Lone, sad United goal from DeLeon.
The only thing that gives me heart about this 2nd leg is that United has been a profoundly weird team all season (see: conceding first and still winning, being a team of grinders that ends up with a 6-4 win, etc). On paper, this should be too daunting a task: NYRB is MLS's highest-scoring team, they had the 3rd best home record in MLS (including just 18 goals against), and United has struggled mightily to score away from RFK. I think the Red Bulls press early, and for all the world it looks like disaster is going to strike. Bill Hamid stands on his head for about an hour before Steve Birnbaum heads in a corner kick resulting from a rare United attack. Hamid resumes working miracles, and this one goes to extra time.
In the extra time period, the Red Bulls finally break through via Mike Grella, but United digs deep and finds an equalizer from Fabian Espindola in the last 5 minutes. Hamid and Luis Robles put on a goalkeeping show in the ensuing penalty kick tiebreaker, and in the end it's Miguel Aguilar going down in United lore as the man who sends the Black-and-Red through with the final shot.
The Metros did the three most important things you can do in the away leg of a two-leg tie with away goals as a tiebreaker:
1) Don't concede
2) Score an away goal
I don't think this DCU team can win in New Jersey. The Metros can play a little conservative here, and they'll score a couple of late goals as United throw numbers forward. 3-1 to the rivals. Make those golfing plans.
D.C. United concedes early, but second half goals from Chris Rolfe and Fabian Espindola mean that United goes through on away goals. Because what is life without hope?