April 21, 2021

D.C. United Playoff Game 1 Recap: Listless United Blanked by Red Bulls


Lauded much of the season for improved play, a more effective attack, and better defending, D.C. United showed exactly none of that Sunday afternoon in its Major League Soccer Cup playoff opener at Red Bull Arena in a 2-0 loss to the New York Red Bulls. Thierry Henry drew assists on a first-half goal by Bradley Wright-Phillips and a second-half dagger from Peguy Luyindula. United couldn’t score an away goal that would have had a massive impact on the series, and now must either win the home leg next Saturday at RFK Stadium by a 2-0 score to force extra time, or by three goals.

Without Chris Rolfe to start and the injured Luis Silva, United looked nothing at all like the team that won the Eastern Conference in the regular season and posted a club-record 59 points. Unable to connect on longer passes and crosses, United rarely possessed the ball with any level of consistency, and the defense was asked to do far too much work against a marauding Red Bulls side that didn’t even get full value for the high level of their performance.

Wright-Phillips opened the scoring in the 40th minute with his 30th goal counting regular season and playoffs. He was left wide open at United goalkeeper Bill Hamid’s right post following an excellent back heel pass from Henry that traversed the United penalty area and eluded the entire D.C. defense. Luyindula smartly let the ball go by him, and with the entire D.C. back line moving to Hamid’s left following Henry and Luyindula, Wright-Phillips had his own area code to easily beat Hamid with a right-footed shot. Wright-Phillips was a force United could not deal with, taking nine shots, including four on goal. United had nine total shots as a team.

With away goals being part of the series tiebreaker this year, it would have made sense for United to be a little more aggressive to start the second half. But it only brought more of the same. The forward tandem of Fabian Espindola and Eddie Johnson created little and were served less. Led by Henry, New York dominated the midfield, with even usual stalwart D.C. defensive midfielder Perry Kitchen suffering an off game, as most of his teammates did, as well.

New York’s second goal came after an uncontested series of passes in the midfield, culminating in Henry’s through ball for Luyindula, who beat United’s defensive line and went in alone on Hamid. Perhaps the best shot stopper in MLS, Hamid was bested on this occasion, as Luyindula blasted a shot through Hamid’s legs that gave New York one hand on a first-ever playoff series win over United in this, their fifth try.

United returns home at 2:30 p.m. Saturday for the second and final match of this series. The match will be televised by NBC.

THE GOOD: Rolfe came on as a substitute and played 16 minutes, his first appearance since breaking his arm in practice late in the regular season. United was a little more dangerous with Rolfe involved and if he’s fit, he must start Saturday.

THE BAD: Just about everything else. Playing a Red Bulls side that had just been in action vs. Sporting Kansas City less than 72 hours ago, United was two steps behind all afternoon, and were rightly dominated as a result.

THE UGLY: The announced attendance was a robust 18,054. That was perhaps the real crowd if you counted everyone twice. Many areas of empty seats were present on a day when neither the nearby New York Jets nor New York Giants were home for NFL games, marking an unfitting backdrop relative to the Red Bulls’ display on the field.

NOTES: The winner of this series plays either New England or Columbus in the Eastern Final. New England scored a 4-2 away win yesterday at Crew Stadium and is an overwhelming favorite to advance. … Proof that stats lie. According to MLS, United had 422 total passes to New York’s 383, and a 76 percent completion percentage to 78 percent by the Red Bulls. None of which matches what anyone who watched this match would have concluded. United was also credited with 52 percent of possession. … Hamid made five saves. New York goalkeeper Luis Robles only needed to make two.

Ed Morgans is the D.C. United Page Editor for District Sports Page. For in-game analysis and story notifications, follow him on Twitter @writered21.

About Ed Morgans

Ed Morgans is DC United Page Editor for District Sports Page. Ed worked for The Journal Newspapers (now The Examiner) and covered DC United from 1997-2002. He spent the 2003 season writing for the club’s website. Ed has covered All-Star Games, MLS Cups, CONCACAF Champions Cup, World Cup qualifiers, and international friendlies. He also worked as a blogger at www.bigsoccer.com, the country’s leading soccer message board website. You can follow Ed on Twitter @writerEd21.

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