WASHINGTON — A pair of MLS originals with lengthy playoff resumes met in the opening match of the Audi 2015 MLS Cup Playoffs on Wednesday night as D.C. United welcomed the New England Revolution to RFK Stadium for a win or go home Knockout Round encounter.
D.C. emerged victorious, using a Chris Pontius goal late in the first half and a second-half game winner from Chris Rolfe to wipe away a spectacular Juan Agudelo opener en route to a 2-1 win. A controversial no call in stoppage time saw New England's Jermaine Jones ejected after confronting referee Mark Geiger after he waved off what the Revs believed was a penalty kick.
With the victory, D.C. advance to the Eastern Conference Semifinals; their opponent has yet to be determined. New England have been eliminated.
The Revs got their opener in absolutely breathtaking fashion. At the quarter hour mark, Revolution defender Kevin Alston streaked down the near sideline before playing a driven ball across the area to Agudelo. The USMNT forward finished audaciously with a bicycle kick from 10 yards, a right-footed blast that settled into the far side netting. Agudelo would leave the match 20 minutes from time with an apparent knee injury.
D.C. had their own golden opportunity at nabbing an opener in the fourth minute. Rolfe was played through by Pontius about 20 yards from goal; he used a nifty move to evade New England defender Andrew Farrell before sending a right-footed effort towards Revs ‘keeper Bobby Shuttleworth, who did well to parry the effort aside.
In the 22nd minute, they’d get an even better chance at an equalizer. Rolfe collected the ball in nearly the same spot as his first opportunity, swiveled and struck goalwards; Shuttleworth shoved his effort aside, directly into the path of United forward Fabian Espindola, who had an open look at goal. Espindola’s one-timed effort, however, went wide.
Back and forth the two teams continued. US international Jermaine Jones fizzed a left-footer from 16 yards towards the far post at the 29-minute mark, but the effort grazed the wrong side of the post. Sean Franklin got on the end of a Nick DeLeon cross 37 minutes in, but again, Shuttleworth handled the effort with ease. Five minutes later, Espindola let rip from 22-yards out with a thunderous left-footed attempt, one which forced Shuttleworth to full stretch; again, though, he’d push it away.
The New England goalkeeper would not, however, get to United’s final attempt of the half. Espindola lined up over a set piece in first-half stoppage time, swinging it into the six-yard box. Pontius rose to meet it, heading it while drifting away from goal, his deft touch placing the ball perfectly in the far side netting.
On the other side of the whistle, the action slowed, but not to a crawl.
United appeared to have New England on their heels in the 74th minute, and their pressure earned them a penalty kick. Second half substitute Alvaro Saborio’s shot caught the outstretched arm of New England midfielder Scott Caldwell just inside the box. Geiger, without hesitation, whistled for the PK. Rolfe, perfect on penalties for D.C. prior to Wednesday’s encounter, stepped up to take the kick, striking it low and to Shuttleworth’s right — but his effort caught the inside of the bar, rebounding away from danger.
United’s leading scorer would not have to wait long to get his redemption. After all the missed chances — his pair of first-half misses, the failed PK conversion, Rolfe made no mistake with his last attempt of the night. DeLeon collected the ball in the box, tucking a backheel to Espindola as he headed behind him towards the backline. The Argentine playmaker slotted the ball across to Rolfe, who banged it home with his left foot from the top of the six, sending D.C.’s rain-soaked fans into bedlam.
D.C., as they’ve done all year, kept it dramatic late. In the 90th minute, Revs midfielder Daigo Kobayashi gave New England their final chance of the night, playing a driven ball across the box to Jones, who headed it goalwards at point blank range. D.C. goalkeeper Bill Hamid was right there to push it over the bar.
The game did not end without controversy. In the first minute of second-half stoppage time, Jones attempted to play a cross towards the center of the box. His service made contact with the forearm of United defender Sean Franklin. Geiger made no call — Jones took exception, protesting the call and making contact with Geiger on more than one occasion, earning a second yellow and a sending off.