A night after Real Salt Lake and Seattle played a tactically entertaining game that ended in a goalless draw, DC United and New York opened the formal Eastern Conference playoffs with a sloppier but as engaging one-all draw at RFK. History was made as for the first time in the MLS playoff as all goals scored in the match were own goals. But, considering the twists and turns this one took, that may be appropriate.
The turning point in the game was in the 71st minute with the game tied at 1. DC fullback Andy Najar was whistled for a foul on Joel Lindpere and cautioned as he ran down the field. Najar turned and flung the ball at referee Jair Marrufo, which lead to an automatic second yellow and ejection. In addition to forcing DC to play a little more conservatively with ten men, the Honduran international will also miss the second leg of the series and deny DC of its fastest and one of its most skilled players. After the game, DC head coach Ben Olsen blamed the dumb play on youth and frustration, an accurate assessment.
Before the Najar ejection, the tactics for these two teams were very clear. The home team came out immediately applying pressure to New York in order to grab an early goal. DC started Branko Boskovic to provide a little more offensive pressure on New York and the Black and Red were able to take advantage of a few favorable matchups, especially Connor Lade on the right and even Lionard Pajoy having the upper hand on Rafa Marquez in the middle. On the other side of the field, New York ended up starting Tim Cahill and configured their lineup to have Dax McCarty play on the right of a midfield diamond with Teemu Tainio playing the holding role. This denied New York an ability to execute their usual fluid passing game in the first half, especially when McCarty was forced wide to help Lade, and DC certainly had the better opportunities.
No opportunity was better than the penalty called late in the first half, as Connor Lade handled a cross into the box. The ensuing penalty was taken by Chris Pontius but his low bullet was well-handled by Red Bull keep Luis Robles, denying DC a golden opportunity to move ahead. In the second half, despite deficiencies on both sides, the only change was Hans Backe taking off an injured Rafa Marquez for Roy Miller, who would play a major role in the half. Miller’s insertion moved Heath Pearce back into the middle, a gamble by New York that almost backfired with Pearce sitting on a yellow and being asked to contain the active Pajoy.