Needing a win by two clear goals to retain the Atlantic Cup and to keep the New York Red Bulls at bay in the Eastern Conference, D.C. United failed on both fronts, falling to the Red Bulls 2-0 on Sunday night at Red Bull Arena. The home side was the aggressor from the onset of the game, and goals from Lloyd Sam and Bradley Wright-Phillips in the first half confirmed their performance.
Wright-Phillips added a second goal halfway through the second half to confirm the lopsided victory for the Metros.
United was buoyed by the return of Bill Hamid in goal, but Fabian Espindola missed his fourth straight MLS game with a knee injury, allowing Chris Pontius to get his first start since May 30th against the Philadelphia Union.
Wright-Phillips and Sam combined early on in the 4th minute to create a chance for Sacha Kljestan that went just wide. Sam collected a pass from Wright-Phillips t the top of the box, and then quickly laid it off for the former Anderlecht man. Kljestan opted for accuracy over power with his low effort, but the shot rolled a yard wide.
Two minutes later, Wright-Phillips was again involved as he collected a long ball in the attacking third, holding the ball until Mike Grella made a run into the box. Grella ran onto the ball before shooting back across his body, but Hamid was quickly off his line to cut down the shot.
Matt Miazga sent a Kljestan free kick into the side netting with a header, before Kljestan recovered his own blocked pass moments later. He got around a couple of defenders only to be denied by Hamid, who again was quickly off his line to cut down the angle.
Grella had another chance to open the scoring in the 15th minute, as he took advantage of a bad turnover from United to make his way into the box. After getting space from Bobby Boswell and Perry Kitchen, Grella had his shot from 8 yards out blocked by Hamid.
United then found a footing in the game, and against the run of play, came close to scoring the opener. A long switch from Pontius found Sean Franklin in on the right, and the right back quickly played up to Nick DeLeon. DeLeon's cross found Chris Rolfe knifing between NYRB's hesitant center backs, but Rolfe's lunging effort to poke the ball home could only produce the slightest contact on the ball. It would be United's best chance of the night. Rolfe then had an opportunity from a free kick just outside the box, but his stinging effort was palmed away by Luis Robles, who had little to do up to that point.
Kljestan was denied a goal with a diving header in the 30th minute by a sprawling Hamid save at the back post. The rebound went right to Wright-Phillips with an unguarded net waiting, but Boswell produced a crucial block to keep the Red Bulls off the scoreboard.
That zero didn't last much longer for the Red Bulls, as the inevitable finally happened in the 33rd minute via Sam's 7th goal of the season. A bad pass from Boswell went straight to Kemar Lawrence at midfield, who immediately played it forward to Wright-Phillips. The Englishman made his way towards the box before slipping a pass towards his countryman - who timed his run perfectly to stay onside - allowing Sam to slot in at the far post.
After a couple of near chances from New York, United looked close to getting into half being down just one goal, before Wright-Phillips emphatically netted his 12th goal of the season in the 42nd minute. A spell of possession allowed Felipe to pick out yet another raking crossfield run from Grella. Grella met the ball with a first-time cross back into the middle, where Wright-Phillips got in front to slam the ball past Hamid and into the upper corner.
The second half had a similar vibe to the first, as the Red Bull's high pressing and energy forced United onto the back foot. Dax McCarty's through ball behind United's defense allowed Sam to run in on goal behind Taylor Kemp, but Hamid was able to just get enough on the chipped shot to send it wide.
Kljestan then beat the offside trap on a broken play, but Hamid quickly got to the top of his box to parry the shot away from Kljestan. The onslaught continued three minutes later, with Grella firing over from Sam's cut back.
The game was all but wrapped up in the 64th minute as Wright-Phillips scored his second on the night to confirm the win. A throw-in from New York found Kljestan, who alertly played a pass over United's defense. Wright-Phillips was held onside by Sean Franklin's late step up, leaving him with a free run at Hamid. Given a classic 1v1 opportunity, Wright-Phillips made no mistake.
Ben Olsen tried to change his side's luck with three attacking substitutions in the second half, but the changes had minimal effect. Michael Farfan, Conor Doyle, and Jairo Arrieta all entered looking to give United a spark, but Arrieta wasted the one chance that he had, sending a weak chip straight into the arms of Robles from inside the box. Arrieta produced 3 shot attempts in 14 minutes, more than any other United player.
Substitute Gonzalo Veron went across the face of goal in the 85th minute, but no one was on the door step to turn it in for the Red Bulls. A quick break the other way through Arrieta and Rolfe ended with Rolfe curling a shot wide of the target.
With the loss, United still remains top of the Eastern Conference, with 44 points from 28 games. The Black-and-Red are off until September 12, when they head to the Rockies to play the Colorado Rapids.