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D.C. United squander second half lead, settle for wild 3-3 tie with NYRB

United were eliminated from the playoffs, but can still win the Atlantic Cup

D.C. United seemed set to suffer another defeat at the hands of the New York Red Bulls at Red Bull Arena, until an old friend showed up once again in stoppage time. A late own goal from Fidel Escobar stunned the Red Bulls, who were all set to celebrate another win over United, as the teams settled for a thrilling 3-3 draw on Wednesday night.

Tyler Adams scored twice for the Red Bulls, the second of which gave New York an early lead in the second half. A deflected free kick from Zoltan Stieber left the teams tied at the break. Patrick Mullins then gave United a second half lead, only to watch it evaporate in eight minutes as Adams struck again and substitute Gonzalo Veron won and converted a penalty. That then set the stage for the stoppage time own goal, which was forced by United sub Bruno Miranda.

United can still take the Atlantic Cup on the final day of the season with a two goal win, but have been mathematically eliminated from any shot at a playoff spot.

Head coach Ben Olsen did not make a single change to the starting lineup that beat the San Jose Earthquakes 4-0 last weekend. In fact, the only change to the gameday 18 was the inclusion of keeper Eric Klenofsky, who replaced Bill Hamid. Hamid, a spokesperson for the team confirmed, was not cleared to play due to a back injury.

Red Bull Arena has been a house of horrors for United in recent history, and the game on Wednesday seemed to play out the same way. New York nearly went up in the third minute, as a long ball from Connor Lade found Bradley Wright-Phillips in the box. The striker backheeled a pass to Sacha Kljestan, but Steve Clark was able to make the save at the near post.

Kofi Opare did enough defensively in the 15th minute to prevent Wright-Phillips from opening the scoring. Alex Muyl got the ball out on the left, and quickly centered a pass into the box. Wright-Phillips was lurking, but Opare did just enough to prevent the striker from getting a touch on the cross.

But when United switched off defensively in the 19th minute, they were forced to pay, as Adams scored his first MLS goal. A dummy from Muyl allowed Lade to collect a pass from Kljestan on the left. Lade’s cross went undefended by the Black-and-Red, with Chris Korb letting it run on, and Adams collected the ball at the far post. The midfielder then smashed a shot on goal, beating Clark high for the 1-0 lead.

Three minutes later, and a moment of hesitation almost cost United another goal. Clark waited to come claim a cross, with Wright-Phillips lurking on the doorstep. Clark’s initial punch didn’t clear the danger, but United eventually got the ball safely into Clark’s possession.

Lade tried to add to the led in the 35th minute, as he slipped a shot through traffic, but Clark was able to get down to make the save. Moments later, another cross got through the box for Adams, who this time laid the ball off for Michael Murillo. The defender’s shot got through a crowded box, but was pushed aside by Clark for a corner kick.

Luciano Acosta wasted a chance from a poor pass from Luis Robles, choosing to chip instead of driving in towards goal after Robles made a mess of an attempted short free kick. And that seemed to be the best chance for United, until Stieber scored his first goal for the club in first half stoppage time.

Paul Arriola won a free kick just outside of the box for United, as Damien Perrinelle picked up a yellow for the tackle. Stieber tried to play a low shot towards the near post, but the shot took a huge deflection off of the wall, which crumbled under pressure from Steve Birnbaum and Marcelo Sarvas. Robles couldn’t adjust quick enough, and the ball snuck in near the post, leveling the scores to end the first half.

The teams traded chances early in the second half, even as Acosta had to be removed at the interval for Lloyd Sam. The biggest of them came in the 65th minute, as Clark made a huge save for United to deny Wright-Phillips a go-ahead goal. A cross came into the middle for the striker, who couldn’t get a good first touch on the ball. Still, with his second touch, Wright-Phillips had what looked like a sure goal from the doorstep, but Clark made himself big to make the save with his shoulder.

That save proved crucial as the Black-and-Red took the lead in the 70th minute. A quick throw-in from Sam to Stieber caught the Red Bulls napping, as Stieber fed the ball to Russell Canouse. Canouse quickly played the ball into the box for Mullins, who kept his run onside. With just Robles to beat, Mullins made no mistake, giving United the lead with his fifth goal in two games.

The lead didn’t last. A 74th minute Kemar Lawrence was deflected by Clark, trickling to the far post. Lade tried to shoot into an empty net, but Canouse slid in to block the ball off the line. Adams collected the rebound and focused on shooting low this time, guiding a shot that went through the legs of both Sam and Wright-Phillips before tucking into the lower corner.

The Red Bulls were once again in the lead in short order. Veron made a run from his own half with no support from his teammates. But Veron was able to get in front of the recovering Arriola, and earn a penalty kick for the Red Bulls. Veron took the honors, and beat Clark despite the keeper guessing the right way.

United were all set to concede the Atlantic Cup for 2017 until Bruno Miranda, a late roll of the dice from Olsen, forced an own goal in stoppage time. Another throw-in caught the Red Bulls unprepared, and the substitute sent a hopeful cross into the box from the right side. Fidel Escobar tried to block the cross, but the driven ball deflected past Robles, leveling the scores at 3-3.

United, with 32 points from 31 games, face a quick turnaround, as they head to Ohio to take on Columbus Crew SC on Saturday. The team then takes a break for international play, before finishing up their last year games at the Portland Timbers, and hosting the Red Bulls in the last-ever game at RFK Stadium.