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Steve Birnbaum injury mars Red Bull Arena loss

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The center back had to be stretchered off late in 2-0 defeat to RBNY

In Ben Olsen’s first foray to Red Bull Arena as head coach, back in 2011, his D.C. United side came away with a surprising 1-0 win. On July 9th that year, Dwayne De Rosario - having recently joined the team in a trade from the Red Bulls - scored the lone goal in United’s 1-0 win in Harrison.

From then on, Red Bull Arena has provided plenty of heartaches for Olsen and United in the regular season. Since that 2011 win, United has lost six of their eight regular season games in Harrison, New Jersey, including last night’s 2-0 loss. The only other win came in 2012, when Nick DeLeon famously scored a late winner in the playoffs to send United to the next round.

But there was none of that magic on Saturday night.

And to top it off, Steve Birnbaum suffered a head injury late on that required a to the hospital to get evaluated. Birnbaum and Damien Perrinelle both jumped for a header late in the game, which resulted in an accidental clash of the heads between the two. Birnbaum took the brunt of the collision though, staying down for several minutes before being stretchered off the field.

“Our thoughts are with him. He’s going to go get some tests, but he’s awake, and he knew who I was,” Olsen said in his post game press conference. “He’ll be okay. He’s a tough kid. But we will take every precaution we can to make sure he is going to be healthy. Scary moment, but he’ll be okay.”

United’s outcome in the game seemed to be determined almost immediately following the start of the second half. The first half was not a great showing from United, but they had done enough to stymie the Red Bulls, and create a couple of chances themselves. The 0-0 halftime score might have flattered United some, but it gave them every chance to get out of RBA with some sort of result.

And then 41 seconds into the second half, Alex Muyl headed home a corner to give New York the lead.

“Not a good start [to the second half]. Up until that point, I thought it was good,” said Olsen after the game. “I thought we frustrated them, and we had a couple of quality looks in the first half, that you have to take against this team in this building. If you don’t do that, and you give them enough set pieces, you’re asking to give one up.”

And that’s exactly what United did.

“We had a pretty good first half. We talked about it at halftime, we knew they were going to come in the first 10 minutes,” Nick DeLeon told B&RU after the game. “When they scored that goal early, it was [deflating], and they had the momentum for the rest of the half.”

Muyl and Daniel Royer had opportunities from corner kicks in the first half. Each won a header from a Sacha Kljestan corner, but couldn’t find a way past Bill Hamid. So the signs that the Red Bulls would continue to threaten on dead balls were there, but United didn’t heed the warning, and Muyl’s first goal of the season sunk them.

“It’s a shame. We don’t do well with the entry ball, which I thought we did well with in the first half,” said Olsen. “And then on the corner, they did a good job of bringing some of their big boys out of there, and isolating Muyl, who’s much more physical than people give him credit for.”

Following that goal, DeLeon was immediately removed from the game. Having picked up a groin injury in the first half, Olsen replaced him to prevent further injury with Sebastien Le Toux. Patrick Nyarko did not travel to the game, and Olsen elected to move DeLeon up further the field to replace Nyarko, while inserting Sean Franklin at right back.

There were reasons for both the moves, and after 45 minutes, it all seemed to be going to plan. And then came the first goal.

“Sean’s experience, and Nicky’s versatility and physicality,” Olsen stated were the reasons why he made those moves with Nyarko absent. “I knew this was going to be a lot of duels, a lot of 50/50, a lot of second balls. Nicky did a good job with that stuff.”

Bradley Wright-Phillips would go on to make it two in the 62nd minute, splitting in between Birnbaum and Bobby Boswell, and then one-timing a shot between Hamid’s legs to give the Red Bulls their two goal lead. Though United pulled off a miraculous result last September at RBA from a similar position, there would be no late heroics this time.

United finally tested Luis Robles several times late, but they never could find a goal, ending their quick two game winning streak. And in turn, it was the fifth time that United had been shut out in eight regular season games at Red Bull Arena since that 2011 win.

Despite the set back, Olsen still saw positives to his team’s performance. They are now without a point in two road games this year, having not scored and given up six goals. But there was an improvement over last month’s loss to New York City FC, even if the final result left much to be desired.

“You’re never going to come in here and get 15 looks on goal. You’re going to get three or four good looks, and we got enough of those tonight. Today we weren’t [efficient with chances],” said Olsen.

“We had two or three good [chances] in the first half, and several down the stretch. We have to do better with them. It’s disappointing to not score a goal, but overall, if I look at the last three weeks, we’re improving, and looking more like ourselves. I think there’s still a lot of substance in us.”