MLS Playoffs: Red Bulls, United Combine for Strange First Leg
Maybe we should have known this one would be dramatic. But who could have known it would be this odd?
Saturday's first leg of the Eastern Conference playoff series between heated MLS rivals New York and D.C. saw both teams score once—on their own goal.
The Red Bulls struck first. Roy Miller, brought on at halftime, drove a Chris Pontius cross into the top corner of his own net in the 61st minute. In Miller's defense, he had to make a play on the ball as United's Nick DeLeon was coming after the same cross.
It only took four minutes for D.C. to return the favor. With this one, I am struggling to find a comparable defense for the lapse.
Thierry Henry played a corner kick too far beyond the back post, and Heath Pearce tried to head the ball back into that zone of danger just in front of the goal and keeper. It was not an easy task, and Pearce missed. The header was in along the goal line, floating instead toward the grasp of United's Bill Hamid.
Hamid jumped and caught the ball. He had trouble holding it, because for some odd reason he did not go up with both hands. He then fell in the goal. There was some traffic in the goal mouth, as one might expect during a corner, but he seemingly was not pushed into the goal. It looked more like he just fell backwards.
Then things got weird.
Andy Najar, who has performed wonderfully for United since moving into the defensive four, was en route to another stellar game Saturday. One play in particular could even have won the label "heady."
In the 71st minute, the Red Bulls regained possession and seemed to have numbers for a dangerous counter. Najar tracked behind New York's Joel Lindpere. Their legs seemed to tangle before Najar reached out to grab at Lindpere's back. Lindpere went down.
It seemed more tactical than malicious on Najar's part. But tactical fouls can be carded, and this one was.
Najar had picked up the ball after the whistle. When the yellow appeared, he did what any player would have done—he threw the ball at the referee.
No, he did not just throw the ball at the referee. A back-pedaling Najar led the walking referee perfectly and hit him in stride from about 15 yards away.
Needless to say, the yellow quickly turned red.
Ben Olsen's squad survived for 20 minutes a player down, so maybe United will find inspiration from just having the opportunity to head into the second leg on Tuesday still even. However, Olsen will have a few long days and maybe sleepless nights knowing United let opportunities pass in this game.
The biggest and most noteworthy was the penalty called for Connor Lade's handball a half hour into the contest. Unfortunately for United, Luis Robles (and everyone else in RFK Stadium) could see Pontius was taking the penalty kick to his left).
A gum-chewing Robles easily stopped the shot.
The comedy of errors overshadowed some pretty good soccer, which is a shame. Robles in particular turned in a very strong performance. Pontius, other than the PK, was sharp and creative for D.C. The miscues will get more attention, though (and I have probably contributed my share to that damage with this article).
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