D.C. United had two tasks on Sunday to keep their season alive in the MLS Playoffs. First, keep the New York Red Bulls from scoring. Second, United had to find a least one goal of their own. The Black-and-Red failed to accomplish either of those tasks, losing 1-0 on the day and 2-0 on aggregate after a stoppage time goal from Bradley Wright-Phillips finished them off.
And now, for the second consecutive season, United's main rivals have knocked them out of the MLS playoffs. That is something that had never happened any of the first 18 years either team existed.
Requiring just a draw to secure their passage, the Red Bulls had a couple of opportunities to seal the series throughout the game. But United still had a chance as long as they hung on at 0-0. Sadly, they could not find the goal they so desperately needed.
Then, with all hands forward for United in a desperate hunt for a goal to force extra time, Wright-Phillips finally ended United's season, scoring in stoppage time after substitute Gonzalo Veron escaped down the left side.
Realistically needing to keep a shutout due to their road scoring woes, United were saved by the woodwork early on. Sacha Kljestan played a ball into the box on the ground as United appeared unprepared for the corner kick, and after a dummy by Sal Zizzo, Grella beat Bill Hamid, but crashed his shot off the crossbar.
Grella then had a header from a long cross go right to Hamid, and Lloyd Sam, after skipping by Nick DeLeon, saw his cross gobbled up by Hamid to prevent any danger.
United had been under pressure for the opening 15 minutes, but finally found a couple of openings themselves, though nothing to end their streak of not being able to get a shot on target. Steve Birnbaum - filling in at right back -found DeLeon with a cross, only for Luis Robles to claim his attempt to prod the ball into a dangerous spot.
Alvaro Saborio had a look on a counter from United, but his shot was wildly over from outside the box. Two minutes later, Wright-Phillips was able to cut in on Bobby Boswell from the left, but the striker's shot was held by Hamid.
Chris Rolfe picked up a yellow card in the 24th minute, as he lunged in trying to get on the end of a cross from Taylor Kemp. Robles punched the ball out inches ahead of Rolfe's attempt to stab the ball home. Referee Ted Unkel, perhaps spotting Rolfe's high boot, put United's top scorer in the book.
At the other end, Kljestan came close to giving the Red Bulls the lead in the 30th minute, as Dax McCarty picked out the former US international near the top of the box. Kljestan took aim with his weaker left foot, but saw his shot bounce just wide of the goal.
United's best two chances came in the next few minutes, as the Black-and-Red finally looked capable of finding a way back into the series. Perry Kitchen combined with DeLeon in the box and found himself in a promising position, but his shot from 10 yards was well blocked by Ronald Zubar.
Soon thereafter, Hamid then found Espindola with a sublime punt after noticing that NYRB had over-committed in the 36th minute. The outlet allowed Espindola to run in on goal, but the Argentinian's shot was deflected inches wide for a corner which United failed to convert.
In the closing moments of the half Felipe headed over from a Kemar Lawrence cross, before Rolfe volleyed powerfully but wide to end the half after being teed up by Espindola's inch-perfect chip back across the grain.
Zubar, who was controversially not suspended and thus could start in place of the injured Damien Perrinelle, wasted a chance to give the Red Bulls the lead in the 53rd minute. In an eerily similar play to the one McCarty scored on at RFK Stadium, Zubar got behind United's defense on a free kick from Kljestan. This time, Zubar met the ball with a volley but scooped the attempt well over the bar.
United finally registered a shot on target in the series, as Espindola got to the end line in the 55th minute. With New York well positioned defensively, Espindola had a crack at goal. Robles, looking unprepared, nearly blocked the ball into his own net but was just strong enough that the rebound went out for a corner instead. United kept coming with sporadic threats: Markus Halsti had a look from the top of the box in the 61st that was lifted over the goal, before Boswell sent a weak header straight at Robles from an Espindola free kick.
Hamid had yet to save United in a desperate moment as he has done all season, until Kljestan tested the keeper in the 64th minute. McCarty collected a throw-in and immediately ran at United's backline, drawing the defense in before playing out wide to Kljestan. The midfielder tried to loft one over Hamid, but United's keeper reached back to palm the shot over the goal.
Ben Olsen inserted Jairo Arrieta into the game in the 68th minute, hoping the Costa Rican could help United find that crucial goal. Arrieta - who had seen his playing time diminish with the acquisition of Saborio - looked to spark United by creating a counter attack with Espindola moments after entering, but United could not turn into a meaningful chance. Arrieta's hold-up play in the 80th minute allowed him to find DeLeon at the top of the box, but DeLeon's one-timed effort curled high and wide of the goal.
With United forcing numbers forward, the game got very stretched out. Wright-Phillips had an opportunity to put the series away, getting behind Boswell on a long ball. Hamid kept United's faint hopes alive, reacting well to palm away a shot as the game entered stoppage time.
BWP wasn't going to be denied his goal though, as one final effort ended United's season in stoppage time. Gonzalo Veron got behind United's defense, with Bobby Boswell exposed for pace, and found an unmarked the younger Wright-Phillips. NYRB's top scorer waited for Hamid's challenge, and then skipped around to finish into the empty net.