New York ended a string of playoff nightmares against D.C. United to book a place in the Eastern Conference final despite a 2-1 defeat at R.F.K. Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
Nick DeLeon provided United with a lifeline in the tie when he struck shortly before halftime to halve the aggregate deficit, but Peguy Luyindula turned home a Thierry Henry cross just before the hour to give the Red Bulls a critical away goal and essentially seal safe passage.
Luyindula’s response meant United needed to score three times in the final half-hour to advance. The home side mustered a winner through Sean Franklin to take the second leg, but it could not procure the goals required to prevent the Red Bulls from going through.
The final result reflected the tie on the whole as New York rode the strength of its first-leg performance and its quality on the break to its first postseason series victory over United. New York now advances to its first conference final since 2008 to face either Columbus or New England in a two-legged tie starting next weekend.
Both teams failed to find their footing in the ragged early stages as they adjusted to the demands stemming from the Red Bulls’ 2-0 victory in the first leg last weekend. The balance favored a New York side with a comfortable cushion from the first leg victory on Sunday, though marginal opportunities fell at both ends before the first genuine talking point emerged shortly after the half-hour.
It came from yet another moment of controversy inside the penalty area. Bradley Wright-Phillips collected on the left and tried to cross toward the penalty spot. Bobby Boswell stopped the cross with his outstretched hand from close range, but referee Ismail Elfath waved away the Red Bulls’ appeals for a spot kick.
Those entreaties assumed more urgency moments later as DeLeon pounced to throw United a lifeline in the series. Taylor Kemp presented the opportunity with a wonderful delivery from the left. DeLeon ghosted between three Red Bulls defender and turned home from six yards to reduce the deficit and throw the outcome of the tie into doubt by the halftime interval.
New York entered the break on fairly comfortable ground with its advantage in the series and United’s willingness to throw numbers forward into the attack. There were a few squandered opportunities to counter in the first half, but the continued recurrence of those openings provided ample encouragement as the second half opened.
The balance of play — D.C. pressing for an equalizer with its fullback in advanced positions, New York waiting for its chance to pounce – ultimately tipped in favor of the Red Bulls. The breakthrough once again came from a moment of brilliance from their influential French duo just before the hour.
Henry drifted out to the left and received a ball from Dax McCarty in a good area. Henry took his marker one-versus-one and twisted a ball back into the near post from the endline. Luyindula dashed past his marker to meet the service and place the equalizer past the stranded Bill Hamid to restore parity on the day.
Luyindula’s second goal in the series placed United in the unenviable position of needing three goals in the final half-hour to secure a place in the final. United coach Ben Olsen chucked Eddie Johnson, Lewis Neal and David Estrada into the fray in a desperate attempt to alter the scoreline and pull his team within striking distance.
The only real impact made before the final quarter of an hour came from another suspect decision by Miller. The veteran Costa Rican fullback jumped into an aerial challenge with his foot flying toward the collarbone of Sean Franklin. He made contact with his wild lunge and received his marching orders from Elfath.
Miller will now wait on the length of his suspension after compounding his second yellow card of the postseason earlier in the match with this straight dismissal, but his indiscipline did not cost the Red Bulls in the late stages. United huffed and puffed as it threw numbers forward in the late stages and received its empty reward in second-half stoppage time.
Franklin found himself in space at the far post and then thrashed a heavy shot through Luis Robles to give United the victory on the day. The late winner mattered little in the final accounting as the Red Bulls advanced on the strength of their first leg display and Luyindula’s away goal to advance to the Eastern Conference final.
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