New York Red Bulls took a strong option on qualifying for the Eastern Conference Finals of the MLS playoffs by beating DC United 2-0 at home Sunday, dominating from start to finish and giving themselves a healthy lead as they head for RFK Stadium on Saturday.
The hosts took control of possession early, finding some success against DC's high press in midfield. Thierry Henry was lively drifting out wide and produced the first bit of attacking display, firing in a cross that was dealt with well by the defence.
The visitors looked as organized as you'd expect from one of MLS' elite defenses, but the same couldn't be said for Chris Pontius' beard, via the league's official Twitter feed:
Nick DeLeon launched an excellent counter opportunity for DC, but both Jamison Olave (for the hosts) and Fabian Espindola (for the visitors) couldn't control the ball.
New York continued to look the better team, with star striker Bradley Wright-Phillips bent on sneaking behind the defence. The 29-year-old consistently timed his runs wrong inside the first 30 minutes, however, negating plenty of the hosts' attacking moves.
Peguy Luyindula came close to opening the score, as Dax McCarty's shot took a wicked deflection off the Frenchman, only to roll out of play just past the post.
A goal seemed inevitable, and after Taylor Kemp nearly had a great look on target for the visitors, the inevitable Wright-Phillips opened the scoring for the hosts, as shared by Kick TV's and former American soccer star Jimmy Conrad:
Henry shielded the ball for a second after taking the entry pass before playing the ball wide with a back heel, and a dummy left Wright-Phillips wide open for an easy finish.
The club's official Twitter feed shared video of the goal:
As shared by Opta's Ben Jata, the forward is drawing ever closer to setting the record for most goals in a season, including the playoffs:
The visitors looked shell-shocked and were unable to produce anything remotely close to an equalizer, as the Red Bulls carried a 1-0 lead into half-time.
The pattern continued in the second half, as DCU tried to dominate possession but failed to produce much in the attacking third. New York were now eyeing the counter-attack, and Bill Hamid had to produce a stunning double-save to deny Wright-Phillips and Lloyd Sam.
Goal's Ives Galarcep got a little carried away describing the sequence:
The hosts now pushed forward with numbers, sensing blood in the water, and the pressure on Hamid's goal increased gradually. Henry should have doubled his team's lead in the 72nd minute but couldn't decide between shooting and passing.
The French legend made up for it one minute later, however, finding Luyindula in space for the 2-0 lead. Here's a look at the goal, via Red Bulls' Twitter feed:
ESPN FC's Taylor Twellman couldn't believe how the hosts dominated DC United:
DC were reeling, and McCarty thought he had made it 3-0, only to see his header glance the post and go out of play. New York kept prodding but couldn't find that all-important third goal, and with time running out, the visitors started taking control of the match.
Knowing just one goal would completely change the return leg due to the away-goal rule, DC's full-backs became more adventurous. Chris Rolfe came close to scoring for the visitors, but New York's defence stood firm, keeping a tight lid on proceedings until the final whistle.
The home crowd exploded once the match was over, and as shared by OptaJack, it's easy to see why:
United manager Olsen was very harsh in his assessment of the match, as shared by the club's official Twitter feed:
He still has faith in his team's chances to dispatch of New York in the return leg, however:
Bobby Boswell voiced a similar sentiment, via Pablo Maurer:
DC showed very little in terms of creativity Sunday. Given the sheer amount of opportunities the hosts had to add to their tally, the Eastern Conference regular season champions can count themselves lucky they still have a realistic chance of qualifying for the finals.
Defending a two-goal lead, a single away goal on Saturday would double New York's advantage, as United would have to score at least four times to counter the away-goal rule.
Their typically strong defence will have to tighten up significantly to stop Henry and Wright-Phillips from exploiting the open spaces once again, however, and the creative midfielders will have to step up to avoid an early playoff exit.