Wednesday night's rivalry match between the New York Red Bulls and D.C. United wasn't quite the classic that fans typically hope for. With a controversial red card cutting D.C. down to 10 men with an hour left to play, the match transformed to a test of the Red Bulls' offense versus United's defense. Lloyd Sam would finally overcome the strong defensive showing to find the game winner in the final minute of regulation.
Espindola's red card transformed the match. It's common wisdom that red cards change games, and a 30th minute red card to D.C. striker Fabian Espindola a high kick on Dax McCarty did just that. As expected, Ben Olsen exploded towards referee Mark Geiger, reminding ESPN why you don't keep hot microphones near coaches that enjoy creative swearing. The shape of the remaining hour of play time became clear immediately: United would try to grind out a defensive draw, and New York would have to find a way through a congested box to muster any sort of attack.
United's game plan almost worked. The Red Bulls, as they have so many times this year against United, looked lost. Bradley Wright-Phillips failed to really test goalkeeper Bill Hamid in the first half, and was substituted off at halftime due to tightness in his hamstring. The remaining attack tried desperately to work the ball around D.C.'s box, looking for an opening and incisive pass to generate a chance. Good chances were hard to come by, and when they did, Hamid continued his run of great form in 2014, stopping shots through incredible saves.
Lloyd Sam saved the day. When you're in need of a goal and points in a rough playoff race, the game winner doesn't have to be pretty. With stoppage time looming, Jamison Olave made a somewhat errant pass. It was perhaps meant for Henry, but somehow it fell to Sam, who had been given a little space to the side. Sam raced forward, held off defender Taylor Kemp, and slotted the ball between Bill Hamid's legs to finally break the deadlock and give New York the win.
A significant win on multiple fronts. The win gives the Red Bulls only their second winning streak of the year, having only previously strung two wins together back in April. It gives them their first clean sheet since June, and their first at home since April. The win spares New York not only being swept across the regular season series by D.C., but also being shut out across all three games. And now, having taken six points off of the top of the Eastern Conference, Mike Petke's team sits a little more comfortably above the red line in fourth place. But with that in mind...
With two of September's seven matches in the bag, attention turns to Saturday's away trip to Philadelphia. With Philadelphia sitting a point behind the Red Bulls, it's a full blown "six pointer". The Union will be rested, having not played a Wednesday game, but will have some roster balancing of their own to figure out, as they have the U.S. Open Cup final on Tuesday on their horizon. Still, the challenge will be on New York to find at least a draw on less than 72 hours of turnaround, if not their first win in Chester since the close of the 2012 season.
Mike Petke on if he was worried the match was going to get out of hand: "I hoped it did to be honest with you because I miss the really old school rivalry from when I first came into the league, you know I don’t see it anymore. Tonight was maybe the first indication that there was maybe a little dislike and I miss it. Obviously I’m half joking here, but no I think it is good for the league, I think it’s good for the teams and I think a rivalry is great. Ben’s a passionate guy, I’m a passionate guy, passionate guys on the team as we saw today, so I was afraid that at the end of the first half when Roy got into it with I think it was Sean Franklin, that it was going to give the officials an excuse to even it out again and I certainly didn’t want that."
Lloyd Sam on the goal: "Yeah, [it was a] great feeling. It was just like any goal but this one meant a bit more because we needed that win. It was so frustrating being out there and nothing was working. It felt even better this time."
Dax McCarty on the red card: "I didn't know he had a red card until a couple minutes after. It's pretty simple. I think we were both going for the ball, he doesn't see me. I think his foot's high, he knocks the wind out of me. That's it, I couldn't breathe...once I started walking on the field, I realized he got a red card. I saw the replay and I think it's harsh, to be honest. For me, the ref's point of view, you can see [Espindola's] studs are high. I don't think he's looking at me. I don't think his intent is to hit me. Maybe it looks worse than it is. Personal opinion is I didn't want him to get a red card. It should've been three or four [to] zero at that point. Sometimes, certain games, it's easier to play 11 v 11, because the other team has to come at you, they have to try to attack. When they go down a man, they sit really deep in a block and it's very hard to break down."
Next Match: Saturday, September 13 3:00 PM, at Philadelphia (TV: NBC Sports)