An Atlantic Cup match is always a show. The dueling cheering sections always cheer a little louder, the players are a bit more physical, and the soccer world is reminded that league rivalries can be just as fierce on the East Coast as the West, albeit maybe slightly less well attended. The third and final leg of the storied New York and DC rivalry ended in a draw tonight, a result that while lacking a definitive answer to many playoff questions might have been the appropriate way to decide the third and final regular season meeting between these two teams.
Despite starting the game with Sebastien LeToux and Kenny Cooper on the bench, New York’s 4-1-4-1 formation dominated possession in the first half and created a number of good chances that they were unfortunate not to finish. But just like last Wednesday at RFK, it was gaffs in net that made a difference early. In the 20th Joel Lindpere drilled a shot low and near post on the right that Bill Hamid could not get a hand on. Not a minute later, the New York defense, which to this point had played well, failed to clear the ball and let DC find Nick DeLeon in front of net. The shot was manageable but Bill Gaudette made a mess of it and let it get by. As the first half whistle blew, both team left the field shaking their heads, New York for not being up and DC for failing to figure out how to string together multiple passes.
Surprisingly, the second half saw both teams trot out the same formations and no substitutions. In fact, it was not until the 72nd minute that either team made a change, and that was DC subbing off Dwayne De Rosario. I think this was a mistake by both coaches. For the visitors, as DC began to create more and more chances, and exploit some match-ups on the wings, I thought Hans Backe missed a chance to double down by putting his foot on DC’s throat (metaphorically) and drive for a backbreaking goal. Bringing Cooper off the bench midway through the second half would have allowed Henry to abuse an over-matched DC midfield and create more scoring chances for New York. Even LeToux could have provided a change of pace. For the home team, the midfield was lacking any creativity besides Nick DeLeon who plays better on the wings. If Olsen would have brought on Branko Boscovic earlier in the match, DC may have been able to nick an earlier goal or even two, considering that they had a number of decent chances in the second half.
But the major story of this game was DC United’s go-ahead goal in the 68th minute. Nick DeLeon from midfield lofted a beautiful cross field pass that found Dwayne De Rosario running past his defender and, with Bill Gaudette charging to defend, the captain headed the ball magnificently over Gaudette and into the net for his 100th career goal. De Rosario becomes the seventh player in MLS history to reach that mark and after the game was quite humble about the accomplishment. “I figured, I am either going to wake up tomorrow wondering what happened or I’m going to put it in the back of the net,” said De Rosario in the post-game press conference.
But it would not be the final goal of the week candidate for the night. While New York had created a few chances (and DC’s continued sloppy defense allowed a few more), it took until the 88th minute for the visitors to gain a deserved second goal. Pressure on the DC net and the failure to completely clear the ball lead to Wilman Conde receiving the ball about twenty-six yards from goal. Using his weaker foot, Conde unleashed an absolute blast that landed in the top corner of the net and again left both teams wondering what might have been. At the end of the night, De Rosario was bringing the Atlantic Cup to the Supporter’s Section and both teams had secured a needed point in their playoff shuffling. But with Columbus picking up a full three points on the same night, the race for the Eastern Conference playoff spots is now incredibly close with Columbus, having games in hand on almost all competitors, holding its destiny in its hands.