D.C. United looked all set to get back to winning ways late in the game against the Montreal Impact at RFK Stadium. Patrick Mullins, in his first start for D.C., had scored a first half goal, and Didier Drogba saw a late red for the Impact. But moments after that, Hernan Bernardello, recently re-signed by the Impact, smashed home an equalizer in a 1-1 draw between Eastern Conference foes.
Mullins was handed his first start for United in his second appearance by manager Ben Olsen. He repaid his manager with a headed goal in the 20th minute. Bill Hamid was back in goal for United, a week after he was left off the 18 due to a wrist and hip injury.
And though United wasted their far share of chances throughout the game, it looked like they were set to end a four game winless streak when Drogba saw a straight red for putting his knee into Marcelo Sarvas. But all that did was set the stage for Bernardello, who scored 17 minutes after coming on as a sub.
Needing a win to get their season back on track, United came out of the gate on the front foot, looking to take the game to Montreal. Luciano Acosta and Jared Jeffrey combined in the first minute to create an opening, with a give and go leaving the ball in front of goal for Acosta. But center back Laurent Ciman was there just before Acosta, clearing the danger away.
But with Ignacio Piatti and Didier Drogba on the field, the Impact were always going to be a threat on the counter attack, which was the driving force for a chance in the 6th minute. A ball played forward by rookie winger Michael Salazar found Piatti on the break, but the Argentine's layoff for Drogba at the top of the box was cut out by Steve Birnbaum.
Nick DeLeon, still occupying a wide position at the start of the game with the absence of Lamar Neagle and Lloyd Sam, found himself in a good crossing position in the 15th minute. With options in the box though, his cross was cleared out before Patrick Nyarko could get onto the ball.
Drogba then had the ball in the back of the net in the 17th minute as United struggled to clear their lines, but the striker was adjudged to have been in an offside position. Drogba then forced a bad turnover out of Bobby Boswell seconds later, but the first timed effort by the Ivorian curled just wide of the far post.
It didn't take long for United to survive those scares before they were ahead though, as Mullins notched his first goal for the Black-and-Red in the 20th minute. An initial corner from Taylor Kemp was kept alive by United, with Kemp getting another crack at a cross. His second attempt curled towards the back post, and Mullins beat Cabrera to the spot, bouncing a header home for the first half lead.
DeLeon got himself into another dangerous attacking position four minutes later, racing onto Acosta's through ball into the box. But the pass left little for DeLeon to aim for, and Evan Bush was able to claim the cross. Mullins then held off Cabrera, opening up an opportunity for Jeffrey, but his early ball out wide for Sean Franklin ended in a cross that United couldn't convert.
Salazar, who recently scored his first two goals for Montreal, nearly added his third professional goal in the 30th minute. Drogba played a pass out wide for Harry Shipp, and the creative midfielder sent a cross towards the back post, towards Salazar. Salazar was able to hit the ball first time, but his effort found the side netting, with Hamid hugging the post.
A minute later, Montreal should have been level, as Birnbaum and Hamid gaffed to gift Piatti a golden opportunity to score. A poor pass to Birnbaum and then back to Hamid was taken by Piatti, who then skipped around Hamid near the top of the box. But Piatti's touch took him wide, and his shot with Hamid out of goal bounced harmlessly off of the post.
And then a mix up from the Impact defensively allowed Acosta to break into the box in the 33rd minute. A bouncing ball forward wasn't dealt with properly by Montreal, and Acosta latched on and made his way into the box. The opportunity to shoot was there for the playmaker, but instead, Acosta tried one more cut back in the box, and the chance was cleared out before he could shoot.
The rest of the first half was a grind from both sides, but DeLeon fired just wide after Nyarko found him at the top of the box in the 45th minute.
Drogba, who scored from a free kick last year when these two teams met for the second time in Montreal, tried his luck right out of the gate in the second half from a free kick. This one though was from almost 40 yards out, and it bounced harmlessly wide of Hamid's goal in the 46th minute.
From the resulting free kick, United were off on the counter. DeLeon and Mullins combined down the right. Mullins pass through for DeLeon created an opening, but a cross into the middle wasn't what Nyarko was looking for, and he struggled to get the ball over to Acosta, who then fired over the goal.
Acosta was then the source of another break in the 55th minute, as United cleared quickly from a Montreal corner. Acosta made his way towards the box, then played out wide to Nyarko. The ball was then played in for Mullins, who left it for Acosta, but the Argentine was taken down before shooting, with no call from referee Ted Unkel.
Salazar went on a long run of his own for the Impact in the 62nd minute, pushing the ball forward from his own half to cause trouble. He wasn't closed down, and his shot from outside of the box skipped just wide of the post, courtesy of a deflection from a defender.
DeLeon then forced Bush into action three minutes later, collecting a ball from Marcelo. DeLeon only had his sights on goal, taking aim from a sharp angle near the corner of the box, but Bush was equal to the effort, palming the shot away. Acosta then got around Ciman in the 68th minute, but could only fire wide from the top of the box.
Kennedy Igboananike came on for Nyarko, and nearly created a goal within minutes of making his first appearance since joining United on Friday. A mishit from Igboananike created a scramble for the ball, and the Nigerian beat Bush to the ball, before sending a cross into the middle. Mullins won the header, but under pressure, only nodded wide.
Drogba then got sent off for Montreal, receiving a straight red from Unkel after putting his knee into the back of Marcelo, who had just been called for a foul. And then Alvaro Saborio, on as a sub for Mullins, nearly won the game for United, but his effort smashed off the bar in the 85th minute.
Two minutes later, and the points were split. A corner from Montreal did little to threaten United, but the ball was kept alive near the top of the box, and a little layoff to Bernardello, who was making his second debut for the club after recently rejoining the Impact, found it's way through the defense after a deflection off of Rob Vincent and past Hamid for the equalizer.
Piatti nearly won it moments later, breaking in on goal from a turnover from United, but Hamid made the save when called into action.
United pushed hard for a winner from there, but did little to trouble Bush for the remaining three minutes plus stoppage, forcing United to settle for a disappointing draw at home.
United, 5-8-8 on the season, return to action on Saturday, when they host the Philadelphia Union at RFK Stadium.