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This Day in D.C. United History: November 8, 2012 and the Eastern Conference Semifinal vs. the Metros

Pajoy -> Russell -> DeLeon FTW

November 8, 2012 - yes, D.C. United fans, it was only 365 days ago that Nick Deleon's goal in Harrison, N.J. slaughtered the New York Red Bulls and put the Black-and-Red into the Eastern Conference Finals (which we won't talk about here). The game itself was an instant classic, with big saves and red cards for both sides and each team living up to the narrative that they had built for themselves over the prior 16 years: United will always find a way to beat Metro when everything is on the line.

I find little reason to think I'll ever forget how that game went down, but in case the circumstances that led up to Nicky sprinting toward the traveling supporters, let's go through the series of events that got us there. It's a doozy.

It starts with the end of the MLS regular seson and United's improbable 7-match unbeaten streak, which not only secured the team's first playoff berth in entirely too many years, but also got United up to second in the Eastern Conference. Along with that top-2 finish came hosting rights to the second leg to the playoff tie with the Metros. Well, it did until United were forced to give up that home field advantage by Superstorm Sandy and Don Garber.

The first match was originally scheduled for Saturday, Nov. 3 at Red Bull Arena, but when the Red Bulls expressed concern that they would not be able to adequately host the match, the Don forced a date swap, and the first leg was moved on short notice to RFK, where Bill Hamid and Roy Miller traded own goals to set up a do-or-die second leg for both sides.

Which brings us to November 7 and a giant damn snowstorm. Everybody knew it was coming, but 700 D.C. United fans boarded buses in the middle of the day and took off northward into the snow. By the time the D.C. fans arrived and were ushered into the upper deck of RBA maybe an hour before the scheduled kick off, we outnumbered local supporters roughly 700 to 24. To our surprise, though, while the snow was falling fast and thick, there was no tarp on the field and absolutely no ongoing efforts to clear it or prevent snow from accumulating. It turns out - we know now thanks to NBC Sports' coverage of the game - that the home side removed the tarp at around 4 pm that day, after the snow had started to fall. Whether they did this knowing that the field would be rendered unplayable if they did nothing for a couple hours or they thought they'd be able to handle it with a crew of volunteer shovelers - which included Don Garber and Kenny Cooper and at least one drunk and obnoxious Metro supporter - we can only guess at.

Ultimately the game was postponed to the next day over the loud objections of anybody associated with the Black-and-Red. Ben Olsen protested. Dave Kasper and Kevin Payne protested. The 700 supporters who had taken the day off work to travel in a snowstorm protested loudest of all. But to no avail. Most of us came back to the DMV and were forced to watch the next days' proceedings on TV.

But 300 fans either stayed up north or made a second trip. And they were treated to something special. The big actors on the night were - in no particular order:

  • Bill Hamid, who made ridiculous save after ridiculous save before ultimately getting sent off for DOCGSO when Kenny Cooper was put in behind the defense.
  • Kenny Cooper, who made good-looking passes and smart runs all night for the home side, but who melted when the pressure was on.
  • Joe Willis, who came in for Hamid to stop Cooper when the penalty had to be retaken. (Big ups to coach Pat Onstad for scouting Cooper and telling Willis that he likes to go to the opposite side whenever he retakes a penalty. Prescient advice, that.)
  • Thierry Henry who had two That's So Metro moments in the game, the first of which was his encroachment on Cooper's first penalty. The second came later, with New York down a goal, when he deferred on a free kick just outside the D.C. penalty area to... Roy Miller.
  • Rafa Marquez, the most Metro player of all the Metros, who was incredibly given a yellow card for a clear elbow that should have seen red and took advantage of the grace he was given by committing a second yellow card offense with his team up a man and the game in the balance. I miss Rafa Marquez.
  • The three-headed goal-scoring beast that was Lionard Pajoy, Robbie Russell and Nick DeLeon, who combined for the game-winner.
  • And finally, Connor Lade, who somehow stayed two yards behind the rest of his teammates to keep DeLeon onside.

In all the night left me crying on my living room floor in ecstasy. (My wife will vouch for that if you ever meet her, btw.) The run to end the playoffs, the Sturm und Drang of changing venues, the almost criminally cruel punishment of our rivals. It was a lot to process - in a good way. And it all ended with a the creation of a meme that is with us to this day:

I know I'm not going to forget that night, and all the things that led up to it, for a long, long time. Where were you when NDL scored his winner? Let us know in the comments.

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