Two own goals and a side trip into Crazy Town for one young D.C. United man made for a rather strange evening at RFK Stadium as the home team and the New York Red Bulls began their two-game series with a 1-1 draw.
It?s clearly ?advantage New York? at this point ? assuming all the lights are back on in Harrison, N.J., and the Red Bulls can host Wednesday?s second leg as planned. The teams are schedule to decide their Eastern Conference semifinal series at Red Bull Arena four nights from now.
Man of the Match: The match produced a lot of ?good,? and just a little bit of ?pretty good.? The men who helped create D.C. United?s goal, left back Chris Korb and striker Lionard Pajoy, both offered something in effort and trouble-making for the opposition, for instance. But it was Red Bulls goalkeeper Luis Robles who contributed perhaps one or two more significant moments, saving five times for the visitors.
Threesome of knowledge: What we learned
Kids do the darndest things, don?t they? Three of the least experienced starters helped decide this one, in some cases by not keeping their young wits about them.
We can start with Andy Najar?s mad moment ? and what a silly boy he was! Referee Jair Marrufo was reaching into his top pocket to caution the 19-year-old Honduran, who has been magnificent as a right back since making the switch out of midfield late in the year. He had just tripped up Joel Lindpere in what appeared to be a tactical foul ? the very kind that deserves a caution.
So, do you take your yellow card and move on? Or do you ? What? Throw the ball at the referee?
What could Najar have been thinking, leaving his team to play about 20 minutes a man down? (Oh, additional games are ahead for that one.)
He wasn?t the only youngster struggling. ??Heck, he wasn?t even the only right back.
New York?s Conor Lade had a rough night, with an early yellow card while trying to deal with Chris Pontius (which is no easy job, of course). Later, the young right back?s hand ball gave DCU a penalty kick, and he nearly gave away a goal with a ridiculous pass into the middle of the field.
And then there was Bill Hamid, D.C. United?s 21-year-old starter in goal ? a man who can stop local supporters? hearts with his big saves or break hearts with his blunders.
A headed ball near Hamid?s goal line off a corner kick should have been a routine play. But Hamid appeared to attempt to catch the ball with one hand and ? disaster.
He lost his balance and fell into goal with the ball, and that was that in a 1-1 draw.
No one in MLS does drama like the Red Bulls.
The night started with Kenny Cooper?s benching. So, his team-leading 18 goals were on the bench, and it sounded like Cooper?s inability to be a better target man was part of the reasoning ? never mind that he?s never been a good target man. And never mind that replacement Sebastien Le Toux is anything but a target man.
But that little personnel subplot moved quickly to the back burner at halftime with Rafa Marquez?s halftime removal. (Sigh. Yes, we are talking about Rafa Marquez. Again.)
The old ?precautionary, due to calf strain? was cited officially as the reason. But NBC?s Kyle Martino had spotted Marquez and manager Hans Backe arguing as they left the field at the break. So, excuse us for believing that was probably more responsible than a nebulous calf issue for Marquez?s latest bit of potentially distracting business.
Truly ? what can be the point of continuing to put up with that guy?
Did it affect things Saturday? Well, Heath Pearce had to slide over from left back. Roy Miller, rusty from inactivity, replaced Pearce at left back and was responsible for the own goal, as his body shape was twisted slightly out of place on Korb?s well-placed cross.
So, yes. Kind of.
Goalkeepers are ruling the playoffs. Nick Rimando was outstanding for Real Salt Lake. Michael Gspurning was everything he needed to be for Seattle. Tally Hall got the job done for Houston.
And then there was Robles in the New York net ? in just his fifth start this year, no less, making him the least likely hero of the glove. Not bad at all for a man who had pretty much tumbled out of professional soccer just a few months ago.
But there he was Saturday, stretching athletically to turn away Korb?s early blast. (Mark that save as best of Robles? night.) ?He guessed correctly to push aside Pontius? first-half penalty kick, and he valiantly took one in the gut later as he thwarted Pontius from point blank range.
Packaged for take-away
- Kenny Cooper, scorer of 18 goals this year, did replace the generally ineffective Sebastien Le Toux after 81 minutes.
- Meanwhile, Thierry Henry? It wouldn?t be fair to call him a ?passenger? in this one, but it wouldn?t be too far from the truth.
- Perhaps Henry, wise in the game as he is, was saving something for Wednesday?
- Dax McCarty had a brilliant season as New York?s holding midfielder. But it easy to see why Backe like Teemu Tainio in there (with McCarty again dispatched to the right.) Tainio doesn?t offer nearly as much in getting New York into the offense, but his tackling was the best on the field Saturday. He certainly does make that area an uncomfortable place for opposition attackers.
- Outside of Najar (before the devil took over his body), Korb, Pontius and Pajoy ? the rest of D.C. United?s men? Meh.