Paul Frederiksen-US PRESSWIRE
Nick DeLeon scored a late goal to send his D.C. United team through to the Eastern Conference finals, in a game that finished in dramatic fashion.
D.C. United defeated the New York Red Bulls 1-0 Thursday in the Eastern Conference semifinal series, as rookie Nick DeLeon scored to give the visitors the win. As a result of the win, United won the series 2-1 on aggregate to advance to the Eastern Conference final.
After the match was postponed a day due to a blizzard in New Jersey that blanketed Red Bull Arena with snow, the teams came out evenly matched. Although New York had most of the chances in the first half, they could not convert any of them, and D.C. looked to have really missed a terrific opportunity by Lionard Pajoy in the fourth minute when his backheel shot was saved by Red Bulls goalkeeper Luis Robles. On the whole, though, the first half was not the most beautiful, as both teams played at a frenetic pace but were not clinical with their chances.
The second half started much in the same way, but the game opened up completely in the 69th minute. Kenny Cooper was tripped by Bill Hamid just inside the D.C. box, and referee Mark Geiger awarded New York the penalty and gave Hamid a red card. Hamid was livid with the decision, and held up play as he argued with the officials and initially refused to leave the field. Backup goalkeeper Joe Willis was pushed into action, and Cooper stepped up to take the penalty. He buried the shot, but he stutter-stepped in his approach and Thierry Henry entered the box before Cooper took the shot. Geiger called the goal off for encroachment, and Cooper took the penalty a second time. This time, Willis guessed correctly on Cooper's shot, and saved it.
About a minute after the second penalty was taken, New York went down to 10 men as Rafael Marquez was given a second yellow card for a late challenge. Both sides had multiple chances for the next 10 minutes or so, but neither side could find a breakthrough until the 88th minute.
D.C. had a nice spell of possession, and Pajoy sent a good pass across the field to Robbie Russell. Russell then sent a great pass through the Red Bulls defense to DeLeon, who made a perfectly-timed run to beat the Red Bulls' offside trap. DeLeon buried the shot with conviction, and the rookie gave his team the lead and advantage in the series.
New York sent ball after ball into DCU's box in the subsequent minutes following the goal, and had some close calls. Perhaps the key moment came in stoppage time, when the Red Bulls had a great free kick opportunity just outside the box. Inexplicably, Henry didn't take the free kick, instead deferring to Roy Miller, who had just entered the game and is not known for his set piece ability. The free kick sailed over the goal, and D.C. hung on for the win.
D.C. will face the Houston Dynamo in the Eastern Conference final, while New York will go another year without a trophy. Although most of the game wasn't particularly fun to watch, the final 20 minutes of the match made it one for the ages in one of the fiercest rivalries in MLS.