The last two MLS seasons for D.C. United have ended at the hands of the New York Red Bulls, the first two times United had ever lost a playoff series to their main rivals. But United got some measure of revenge on Friday night at RFK Stadium, as the Black-and-Red took the first leg of the Atlantic Cup with a 2-0 victory. Alvaro Saborio was on target in the 20th minute for United, finishing a wonderful move by United, before Patrick Nyarko ensured the victory just minutes before the end of the first half.
Ben Olsen went with an unchanged side from last week's loss to New York City FC, with Saborio up top with Luciano Acosta, and Nyarko back in a familiar starting role after being forced out of the NYCFC game in the first half due to illness. There were tweaks, though, with Acosta sitting deeper and Nyarko playing on the left flank to start.
A week after failing to register at shot on target in the 2-0 loss to the Pigeons, United started the first leg of the Atlantic Cup much brighter. Nick DeLeon just missed in an attempt to play Luciano Acosta's ball towards Nyarko in the box in the 2nd minute, with Luis Robles able to claim the ball. Seconds later, Saborio took aim from long range, but his shot was easily claimed by Robles.
Sacha Kljestan had an opportunity from a free kick in the 5th minute, but Travis Worra, soon to be replaced by the returning Bill Hamid, was able to claim the shot. Then Acosta's shot from outside of the box was over, followed up by a cross from the Argentine - following some delightful dribbling along the left - that went untouched through the middle just in front of the goal.
Bradley Wright-Phillips, who has turned the tide of his slow start to the season in recent weeks, took a touch to set himself up for a bicycle kick in the 8th minute. The acrobatic effort was on target, but Worra was quick enough to react to save the shot. A dangerous free kick in the 17th minute almost led to a goal for the Red Bulls, as the ball bounced dangerously off of Dax McCarty just in front of the net. But desperate defending from United prevented Mike Grella from getting a second look, keeping the game scoreless.
Gonzalo Veron, who got the surprise start over Lloyd Sam, made his way towards goal with a counter attack a minute later, though his left footed effort from the left flank was always going to skip wide of Worra's goal.
After twenty back-and-forth minutes, Saborio atoned from last week's big miss to put the Black-and-Red up 1-0. United were able to keep possession along the right flank before dropping it deep to Nyarko, who had filled in behind the overlapping Sean Franklin. Nyarko took advantage of a giant gap in the New York defense, playing Marcelo Sarvas through. Marcelo timed his run perfectly, leaving him with a simple square pass for Saborio to end the sequence with a tap-in from a yard out.
The amount of chances slowed after the goal, but Worra had to make several interventions to keep United ahead as the Bulls pushed for an equalizer. McCarty made an unmarked run into the box in the 31st minute, rising up to head Grella's cross down, but Worra was able to react quickly enough to parry the header away.
Seconds later, Worra made a sprawling kick save on Veron, as the Argentine tried to put away Wright-Phillips' service. The ball then fell to Felipe Martins at the top of the box, who steered the ball towards the unguarded net. Worra, still recovering from the first save, somehow scrambled up to push the shot away.
New York almost escaped into halftime down just the one goal, but persistence again from United created another goal in the 41st minute, as Nyarko scored for the third time on the season. Saborio kept the ball alive for United before passing down right flank for Neagle. Neagle fizzed a cross to the far post to Nyarko, whose hard run ended with a leaping volley past Luis Robles.
With a two goal cushion to start the second half, United found themselves fending off early pressure from the Red Bulls. Wright-Phillips stole a United throw-in before spinning to fire on goal, forcing Worra into another save. Then Veron made the most of what seemed to be nothing in the 48th minute, keeping possession down the right flank before cutting into the box and firing a shot that was blocked away by Taylor Kemp.
From there, United seemed to settle down and take control over proceedings. That led to a chance in the 57th minute, where it appeared that Acosta would give United a three goal advantage. Neagle headed a loose ball back in towards goal, allowing Acosta to muscle off Connor Lade in front of goal. Acosta tried to turn his shot in from there, but Robles was quickly out to cut down the angle and made the save.
In the 64th minute, Sean Franklin sent a left footed cross into the box, where Steve Birnbaum won the ball at the far post. Stretching out, Birnbaum played the ball back across the face of goal, but Grella intervened for the Red Bulls just as Bobby Boswell looked to be in position to convert.
Lade, who replaced Kemar Lawrence immediately following United's second goal in the first half, had a shooting opportunity open up in the 67th minute, allowing the right back to fire in from outside the box. Worra dove in at his near post, but the ball was wide of the mark anyway.
2-0 seemed to be the destined outcome, but Julian Buescher - on as a sub for Acosta - tested Robles in the 82nd minute. A bouncing ball in the box bobbled into Buescher's path, allowing the rookie to shoot. Robles delivered a sterling save to rob the German midfielder of his first MLS goal.
From their, United successfully saw out the rest of the game, picking up their fourth win on the season. United return to action next Friday, heading to Pennsylvania to take on the Philadelphia Union.