WASHINGTON – Connor Lade was enduring a nightmare performance at RFK Stadium. He had been beaten by D.C. United attackers on multiple occasions, he was poor with the ball at his feet and he seemed a likely candidate to be replaced at halftime.
That was back in April, but history repeated itself on Saturday night.
The New York Red Bulls rookie defender went through another rough first half in a stadium that might just be his least favorite to play after the Red Bulls' 1-1 draw against D.C. United in the first leg of the Eastern Conference Semifinals. Lade struggled to deal with United forward Chris Pontius for almost the entire opening 45 minutes and it was the Red Bulls right back who conceded a penalty kick (that was ultimately saved) because of a handball offence.
“I just come into the game trying not to think about that type of thing and then throughout the half, I was kind of like ‘not again,’” Lade told MLSsoccer.com. “I just had to take the same approach, come in at halftime, regroup, think about the things I can do better and go out there and put a better performance in the second half.”
WATCH: DC-NY postgame reactions
Like the regular season meeting in April, Lade did just that. He was more composed on the ball and stronger defensively, though he still had his hands full with Pontius. Still, the second half was a marked improvement for a player who was getting his first taste of what the MLS playoffs are about.
“It’s a whole other animal than the regular season,” Lade said. “Everything is on the line, every little decision counts and when you make a bad decision it can cost you the whole season.”
After the game, assistant coach Mike Petke gave Lade instructions on how to position himself better when dealing with aerial balls. It is likely United will target Lade and his 5-foot-6 frame repeatedly in the second leg on Wednesday (8 pm ET, NBCSN) given his first-half struggles on Saturday night, but Lade will be better equipped to handle that after another topsy-turvy night in the nation’s capital.
“I’m glad I got to experience [a playoff game] for the first time and I know what to expect going in next game,” Lade said. “It’s going to be another real tough game, so, hopefully, I can concentrate right from the start and put a good, complete 90 minutes.”
Franco Panizo covers the New York Red Bulls for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached at Franco8813@gmail.com.