WASHINGTON – The New York Red Bulls were slow and lifeless at the start of their Eastern Conference Semifinal first leg against rivals D.C. United and when they RBNY conceded a penalty kick near the half-hour mark, it looked like the they were on the verge of yet another postseason meltdown.
That did not prove to be the case.
Rallying from a scoreless albeit poor first half, the Red Bulls put forth a much-improved performance after halftime en route to picking up a 1-1 draw in a chaotic first leg at RFK Stadium on Saturday night. But there is no hiding behind the fact that only a better outing in the second leg will get New York to the Eastern Conference Championship.
“It wasn’t a good game for us,” said RBNY designated player Rafa Márquez, who was replaced at halftime by manager Hans Backe because of precautionary measures for a calf injury. “It wasn’t the same level we showed the last few games. We need to change our attitude if we are to live up to our expectations of something bigger.”
WATCH: D.C.-NY post-game interviews
The Red Bulls' slow start to Saturday night's match was a big concern and although they did not give up a goal, they were outclassed up until United right back Andy Najar was sent off with two yellow cards in a matter of seconds in the second half.
But the final 1-1 result arguably gives New York an edge as the two teams head to Red Bull Arena for Wednesday’s second leg (8 pm ET, NBC Sports Network) seeking a win in a match that is surely to be as intense and hard-fought as the wild first one.
“It was a really scrappy game,” said New York defender Connor Lade, whose hand ball led to D.C.'s first-half PK attempt. “Going into the week, we wanted to find a way to grind out a result down here and a couple ones bounced our way and a couple ones bounced their way, and I think it could have gone either way tonight.
“But we’re going to be happy to walk away from here with a draw and go back home. Hopefully, we can put on a different show there.”
Franco Panizo covers the New York Red Bulls for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached at Franco8813@gmail.com.