Two own goals, one missed penalty and one red card. That sums up the first leg of D.C. United and the New York Red Bulls' Eastern Conference semifinal and it is unlikely to get much better in the second leg. With a storm that will bring rain, wind and maybe even snow to Red Bull Arena, both teams will struggle to do much pretty or positive, if they even try to.
Hans Backe sent his Red Bulls team out at RFK Stadium seemingly happy to take a draw and for good reason. Draw away and leave yourself one match at home to advance is a sound strategy. Thierry Henry seemingly forgot how to sprint and even once they went up a man, the Red Bulls never seemed compelled to go forward. At that point, with a man advantage, maybe they would have been wise to seek out a winning goal, but an away draw still did them well.
What did not make sense was D.C.'s conservative nature. Ben Olsen, in his first major test as a manager, either failed or had supreme confidence in his team to do the job at Red Bull Arena. With New York essentially daring D.C. to attack their right, United refused to. With the Red Bulls' back line in shambles, United couldn't figure out how to consistently challenge them, even if by simple Route 1 tactics.
Own goals by Bill Hamid and Roy Miller later, United and the Red Bulls were heading to the second leg all level. This time, the weather will make it very difficult to play, which doesn't exactly inspire much confidence in a more entertaining match.
The Red Bulls have a few easy ways to give themselves more punch going forward, most notably starting Kenny Cooper and getting Henry to actually run. Combine that with a home match and believing in New York isn't quite so hard (just pretend that their entire history of failure has been wiped from your mind).
For United, it isn't quite as easy. If they are going to continue to play with to holding midfielders, without Dwayne De Rosario and now no Andy Najar, who is suspended after his red card in the first leg, Olsen is going to have to get creative. Unfortunately for D.C., Olsen hasn't even dabbled in the creativity pool before.
Odds are, the second leg won't have two own goals, a missed penalty or even a red card. It won't have such defensive tactics on both sides either, but toss in some nasty weather and it won't be much prettier. Still, someone has to go to the Eastern Conference final, or so we're told.