D.C. United were undone early in the second half against the New York Red Bulls, conceding two goals as United’s rivals took the first leg of the 2017 edition of the Atlantic Cup. Alex Muyl scored his first goal of the season just moments into the second half, and Bradley Wright-Phillips made it two in the 62nd minute.
The defeat, United’s third from seven games, ended their recent two game winning streak.
Head coach Ben Olsen made one change to the team that beat New York City FC 2-1 last weekend. Jared Jeffrey retained his spot as a defensive midfielder despite the return of Marcelo Sarvas from suspension, but with Patrick Nyarko not in the game day squad due to a hamstring issue, Nick DeLeon took the left midfield spot. DeLeon, who had started the first five games as a right back, was replaced by Sean Franklin, his first start since the 2-0 defeat to Columbus Crew SC back in March.
Behind their home crowd, the Red Bulls fired off the first volley in this installment of the Atlantic Cup in the 6th minute. A long ball played up from the back by headed down by Alex Muyl, with Bradley Wright-Phillips racing onto the ball. But a shot from the Red Bulls’ all time leading scorer was over the mark.
United could have been off to the races in the 9th minute, as they broke away from a New York corner. Luciano Acosta and Jose Ortiz both grappled for the ball, with Acosta eventually taking possession. Acosta then quickly picked out Ortiz, but the Costa Rican, filling in for Patrick Mullins, missed the mark with his pass to Lloyd Sam, killing the attack.
Wright-Phillips had a pass cut out just in front of goal in the 11th minute, after a well worked moved from the Red Bulls. Then, at the other end, Steve Birnbaum was teed up on a corner from Lloyd Sam, but a volley from the center back was blazed over the bar.
The Red Bulls had two chances from corners in the 24th and 25th minutes, but could not capitalize on either, despite winning headers from both of Sacha Kljestan’s set pieces. The first was headed wide of the goal by Muyl, and the second was on target from Daniel Royer, but a diving Bill Hamid was able to make the save.
United’s best looking move of the first half came in the 33rd minute, courtesy of a counter attack from DeLeon. As he made his way past the midfield line, DeLeon played out wide for Acosta. Acosta’s centering pass found Ian Harkes in the box, but Harkes’ one-timed effort was blocked by Aurelien Collin, and United couldn’t capitalize on the resulting corner.
The last two chances of the first half fell to the Red Bulls, but two good opportunities couldn’t be converted into goals. First, Royer, after collecting a pass from Kljestan, dragged a shot from near the penalty spot wide of the goal. Then, in the 42nd minute, Muyl had an opening after cutting back just at the top of the box, but his shot was straight at Hamid.
Those missed chances didn’t sting that long for the Red Bulls though, as it took just mere moments in the second half before they were on the scoreboard. Kljestan’s well placed corner found Muyl, and the effort by Hamid was not enough to keep the header out, as the Red Bulls had a lead they never looked like relinquishing.
But United did have two opportunities in the space of a couple of minutes, courtesy of Birnbaum. The first came when a cross was knocked out to Birnbaum at the top of the box. Collecting the ball, Birnbaum shot on the turn, and his goal-bound shot was just tipped over by Red Bulls goalkeeper Luis Robles. Birnbaum then won the header from Sam’s resulting corner, but the center back couldn’t direct his shot on goal.
By the 62nd minute, it was all over but the shouting, as United fell victim to Wright-Phillips’ third goal of the season. With plenty of space in midfield following an Acosta turnover, Kljestan had time to pick out Felipe going towards goal. Felipe waited for the run of Wright-Phillips, and when he split the center backs, Felipe fed the striker the ball in the box as Boswell took too long to pick out the danger. On a tough turn, Wright-Phillips shot with his first touch, catching Hamid as he set his feet, and finishing between Hamid’s legs.
The Red Bulls did well to see out most of the rest of the half, but both teams had their chances to add to the scoreline. Sam had a run at goal in the 71st minute, but his effort ended in a weak shot straight at Robles.
Derrick Etienne, who came on as a substitute for Wright-Phillips, was played in behind United’s defense - which by now consisted of just three players, as Birnbaum was playing up front - by Kljestan in the 85th minute. With Sean Franklin pressuring, Etienne fired away a shot on goal, but Hamid was able to make the save without much worry.
United’s Lamar Neagle, who had come on for Ortiz, had his own look at goal just a minute later. A cross from Taylor Kemp found Neagle on the other side of the box, allowing Neagle to line up a shot. Neagle’s effort was well struck, but Robles had a strong answer, diving low to his left.
After Birnbaum suffered a head injury late in the game that required a stretcher and a substitute, Acosta had a good strike from a free kick outside of the box, but his effort curled just wide of the post.
United, with seven points from six games, continue their road trip next week on the I-95 corridor. On Saturday, United play the New England Revolution at Gillette Stadium.