August 22, 2019

D.C. United Playoff Game 2 Recap: Despite victory, United’s dream season ends

A season unlike any other for D.C. United ended in a fashion also unlike any other for the Major League Soccer club. A 2-1 win over the New York Red Bulls Saturday afternoon before 20,187 at RFK Stadium wasn’t enough to overcome a 2-0 disadvantage from the first leg of the Eastern Conference semifinals. Beaten 3-2 on aggregate, United were eliminated by the rival Red Bulls for the first time in history.

There was hope for United after a first half that saw the hosts bag the only goal, a header by Nick DeLeon that came on the end of a perfect Taylor Kemp cross from the attacking left. Another half like that would have left the series level at 2-2, and forced extra time and perhaps later, penalties. But walking a razor-thin tightrope due to the lack of an away goal in the loss at Red Bull Arena last week, United’s pending doom was confirmed when Peguy Luyindula got goal-side on Perry Kitchen and tapped home a Thierry Henry cross that leveled the match at 1-1.

More importantly, it put the Red Bulls ahead, 3-1, on aggregate and gave them the away goals tiebreaker, meaning United no longer could force extra time, and needed three goals to win. But what felt like a sad procession in the final half-hour sparked to life in the 78th minute, when New York defender Roy Miller was sent off for a high boot that caught D.C.’s Sean Franklin studs-first in the shoulder. A dangerous free kick resulted and United would have been full of life with a goal there, but nothing came from it.

D.C. did get the goal it at least needed to win on the day in stoppage time, as Franklin fiercely struck a volley from 8 yards that took the ball and New York goalkeeper Luis Robles into the net. United had nearly 5 minutes of stoppage time following that, but there was no miracle for a United squad that set a record for points (59) this season.

Tempers flared late, as New York midfielder Lloyd Sam mixed it up a bit with multiple United players on field, then gestured and shared pleasantries with home fans as he was substituted. United forward Fabian Espindola, who struggled early connecting with teammates but got into the game as it went on, was sent off after the whistle for continued dissent. Espindola felt the ball went out at midfield shortly before New York’s goal. He argued with the assistant referee on that side following the goal, drawing a yellow. He had more to say after the final whistle and was shown red.

But Espindola’s antics were an exception, not the rule, as the rest of the team stayed on the field and thanked supporters. It was a sudden and unfortunate ending, but United still can celebrate a season that featured a 43-point improvement over a year ago, first place in the East (which brought with it a berth in the 2015-16 CONCACAF Champions League), and many team/individual highlights.

New York advances to the Eastern Conference Final, and will play either New England or Columbus in a two-game series. Those two clubs play their Eastern Semifinal Game 2 today, with the Revolution having thrashed the Crew, 4-2, at Columbus in Game 1.

THE GOOD: It’s mere consolation, of course, but at least United won the day. It would have been easy to fold after the New York goal, given the small probability of a series-winning rally at that point. But D.C. kept playing and were rewarded late through Franklin’s goal.

THE GOOD, PART II: Unlike last week’s match at Red Bull Arena where fans apparently got in free if they were dressed as blue empty seats, United fans filled the lower bowl (the upper bowl at RFK wasn’t available for seating) and created an excellent environment. Three sections of Red Bull fans could be found and sometimes heard in Sections 316-318.

THE BAD: United weren’t able to use injured Luis Silva at all in this series, he of the career-high 11 goals this season. Hurt late in the regular season, Silva hoped to return for action yesterday but wasn’t used.

THE UGLY: United were for the most part very good Saturday, save for some early stretches where there seemed to be a lack of cohesiveness in the attack. Had the team produced the same overall effort last Sunday, the complexion of the series probably would have been much different. While some complain over the lack of a true advantage for higher seeds in this MLS playoff format, the bottom line in this particular series was that United wasn’t good enough in the first leg and created too deep a hole from which to climb out.

NOTES: The focus for all United fans during the offseason will be on the club’s fight for a new stadium in Washington. Muriel Bowser convincingly won the city’s Mayoral election last Tuesday, as stadium proponent Vincent Gray leaves office. A successful deal would see a stadium built at Buzzard Point, near Nationals Park. Failure would mean finding a new site an starting from scratch, at best. … When United returns in 2015, the landscape of its home in the Eastern Conference will be vastly different. Both Sporting Kansas City and the Houston Dynamo are heading to the Western Conference, which will be at 10 teams next season thanks in part to Chivas USA closing its doors recently. Meanwhile, the East will also be at 10, as expansion clubs Orlando City and New York City FC begin play.

Ed Morgans is the D.C. United Page Editor for District Sports Page. 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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