WASHINGTON – The first playoff match at RFK Stadium in five years had it all as the New York Red Bulls tied D.C. United 1-1 in a wild Eastern Conference Semifinal first leg on Saturday night.
Two own-goals, a saved penalty kick and a player ejected for throwing the ball at the referee were just some of the highlights in an event-filled match as the long-time rivals move into Wednesday night's second leg at Red Bull Arena on Nov. 7 (8 pm ET, NBC Sports Network).
New York defender Roy Miller and D.C. United goalkeeper Bill Hamid found a way to put the ball into their own net in a span of five minutes in the second half to decide the match which was switched earlier this week from Red Bull Arena to RFK after Hurricane Sandy left the Red Bulls facility without power.
The drama began in the first half when United were awarded the first golden opportunity of the evening after New York defender Connor Lade was called for a handball in the box after his right arm clipped an offering from D.C.'s Branko Boskovic.
The ensuing penalty was taken by United’s leading scorer Chris Pontius, who struck the ball hard, but New York goalkeeper Luis Robles guessed right and the ball was cleared in the 33rd minute.
That was only a taste of what was to come in the second half beginning with Miller’s own goal in the 60th minute which gave United a momentary 1-0 lead. The Costa Rican left back, a second-half substitute, was running alongside D.C.'s Nick DeLeon and attempted to clear a ball sent into the box by Perry Kitchen, but he sent his clearance directly into the top corner of his own goal.
D.C.'s lead didn’t last long because United committed an own goal of their own five minutes later. With New York defender Markus Holgersson standing directly in front of Hamid, D.C.’s netminder jumped to corral a header by Heath Pearce and fell into his own net while holding the ball. Hamid sprinted toward midfield to argue that he was fouled on the play, but the equalizer stood.
Things got even wilder when United’s youngest player lost his cool in the 71st minute. Right back Andy Najar was issued a double yellow and will miss the second leg of this playoff series after throwing the ball at referee Jair Marrufo.
Najar was unhappy with the referee's call when he was whistled and cautioned for a foul on the Red Bulls' Joel Lindpere. As he backpedaled toward his own end, Najar then tossed the ball right at Marrufo, who did not hesitate in issuing a second yellow.
Despite playing against a 10-man D.C. side – who are now unbeaten in 17 straight home matches – the Red Bulls were unable to capitalize on the man advantage in the final 19 minutes of the match.
Instead it was D.C. who came closest to taking the lead in the aggregate-goal series when Pontius snuck inside the six-yard box and struck a shot directly into the chest of Robles in the 75th minute. United also argued for a penalty on the same sequence as Lionard Pajoy grappled with New York's Pearce in the box.
Earlier on Saturday night, the Red Bulls confirmed that power was restored at Red Bull Arena, ensuring that the second leg will take place as scheduled on Wednesday night with both teams needing a win to advance in the 2012 postseason.
MLSsoccer.com Men of the Match
|Rank||Player||What We Saw|
|1||Luis Robles||Made a key save after two minutes, stopped a penalty kick, made another big stop on Chris Pontius all while battling calf issues. Big-time performance.|
|2||Chris Pontius||Sure, he missed a decisive PK, but Pontius was full of industry for the rest of the match. He showed why he's the one wearing the captain's armband for D.C..|
|3||Markus Holgersson||Solid effort on the NY back line with several timely interventions. The most consistent NY player in front of Robles.|