After dominating the first half of their first playoff match in five years, D.C. United had nothing to show for it despite numerous first-half scoring chances, including a penalty kick awarded to captain Chris Pontius.
Their persistence was finally rewarded in the 61st minute when Roy Miller’s attempt to clear a cross from Chris Korb to Nick DeLeon ended up in the back of his own net.
“It was a great ball by Korb and Nick [DeLeon] put pressure on their defender to clear the ball,” said Pontius. “We had so many great chances, something was bound to happen.”
Moments later D.C. United would even things up with their own own goal. As Bill Hamid attempted to knock down a rebound from Thierry Henry’s corner kick, the netminder fell back into his own net. Believing he had been fouled by New York’s Marcus Holgersson, Hamid chased the referee out to midfield in a moment of lost composure that would set the tone for DCU’s second half.
“I got bumped,” said Hamid. “Watch the replay. I got bumped.”
United’s frustration with the Red Bulls’ physical play and lack of referee calls finally boiled over in the 70th minute when Andy Najar was tagged with a yellow card for a slide tackle. Clearly unhappy with the call, the defender threw the ball back at the referee, earning a second yellow card and automatic dejection from the game.
“I’ve never seen that and for a fact I don’t think it was intentional,” said Dejan Jakovic of Najar’s outburst. “He turned around and threw the ball --he didn’t see where he was throwing it-- and unfortunately it ended up hitting the ref.”
“It’s a playoff game and there are high emotions,” said Pontius. “We gotta keep our heads a little bit better but this team has a lot of character and a lot of passion and I think you saw that tonight.”
DCU would be forced to play out the remainder of the match with a side of 10. Despite their man advantage, the Red Bulls were unable to capitalize and failed to put a shot on goal.
In 94 minutes of play, United’s defense held the Red Bulls, who boast two of the league’s top scorers, to just two shots on goal. United put five shots on target, narrowly missed on a pair of goal mouth attemps from Branko Boskovic and DeLeon and still managed four strikes to New York's one after losing Najar, yet both teams exited the field in an unsatisfying 1-1 draw.
“I think we played a great game. Even when we went down a man we still had some chances,” said Jakovic. “I don’t think a lot of calls went our way and obviously some frustration came into play but that’s part of the game. We held our shape and kept them in front of us and the whole game I don’t think they were really dangerous at all.”
Najar will have to sit as the two-game series heads to New York on Wednesday, November 7 to determine who will advance to the Eastern Conference Championship.