After a first half that was about as good as it gets for the New York Red Bulls, coach Mo Johnston warned his team of what was to come. He told them that Alecko Eskandarian would come on after halftime, that D.C. United would turn up the energy.
He was right.
The Red Bulls blew a 2-0 lead after 18 minutes and were fortunate to hold on to a 2-2 tie against D.C. United in front of a First Kick 2006 crowd of 23,028 at RFK Stadium.
It was their first game under new ownership, but the team named after the energy drink certainly lacked energy in the second half.
"I was nervous at 2-0. Credit D.C., they're a good team, they come forward and they come forward well," Johnston said. "When you look at 2-0, they get a goal and then it gives them a lift and that's what happens. You start to get nervous people out there."
Eskandarian was the difference for a D.C. team without starting goalkeeper Nick Rimando, out with a left foot sprain, and suspended attacking midfielder Christian Gomez.
Eskandarian, who replaced midfielder Clyde Simms at the half, made his first appearance since suffering a concussion from a collision with New England goalkeeper Matt Reis last June 18. And the Red Bulls back four struggled with his pace up front.
He scored his first goal since the 2004 MLS Cup Final with a first-time volley of a Josh Gros cross from the top left of the six-yard box in the 55th minute.
And United made it 2-2, 10 minutes later on a low shot by Facundo Erpen that deflected off defender Jeff Parke.
"It was coming right to me," Meola said. "He hit it hard, but it was going to be an easy save. He tried to block it, stuck his foot out and put it right in the corner."
Despite the disappointing result, there were some positive signs the Red Bulls take away from their season opener. There was the individual brilliance of Youri Djorkaeff, who put the Red Bulls in front after 15 minutes with a stunning free kick from 35 yards out.
Djorkaeff's explanation on why he thought he could score from that distance?
"Because I am Youri Djorkaeff," he said with a smile and a laugh.
And there was the play of rookie fullback Marvell Wynne, who negated Freddy Adu for much of the first half.
"I felt Marvell [played well], in the first half -- Freddy didn't want any part of him," Johnston said.
There was the first goal by Edson Buddle, who was acquired Tuesday in a trade with Columbus for Eddie Gaven and the rights to Chris Leitch. Sure it was a sitter after Troy Perkins bobbled a Seth Stammler cross in the 18th minute, but it was the all-important first goal for a player who hasn't quite lived up to his massive potential.
Although he didn't score the rest of the way, Buddle was dangerous and won nearly every ball in the air.
"It definitely helped my confidence," Buddle said. "Coming in, the team relies on me to score goals and next week it's going to continue. I don't want to score one here, one there. I want to be more consistent."
And there was the traveling support, 16 buses of 800 fans -- fully funded by Red Bull -- who occupied five sections at RFK and was unlike anything many of the Red Bulls have ever seen.
"When we first came out here looking around, we saw all the signs, black and red, all for D.C. And then you look over in the corner, it was really awesome," Wynne said. "It was absolutely amazing. It relaxed me a little bit, gave me confidence, something more to play for."
Dylan Butler is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.