In April, the New York Red Bulls were thrashed on the road by bitter rivals DC United. Two months later, the Red Bulls would get their revenge at home. The third and final match in 2012? The headline might say "tie", but unlike Sunday's tie that felt like a loss, this one felt more like a win.
When the lineups were announced, most expected the 4-5-1 formation—with the returning Thierry Henry as lone striker—would lead to another bunkering, defensive game. But the midfield clicked, and combined with a generous amount of space and time on the ball, New York strung together nice attacking sequences. With Tim Cahill given a bit more room to get forward, the Australian's posed a threat much of the first half, coming close on multiple chances. It was team stalwart Joel Lindpere who opened the scoring, taking a pass from Henry in the 19th minute and striking a well-hit shot past Bill Hamid.
Between the shock of not giving up a goal in the first 15 minutes (they lead the league with 9 allowed, and gave up one to DC inside the first minute in the last match) and having their first lead on the road since June, the Red Bulls may have been overwhelmed with optimism. DC was happy to bring them back to earth, quickly marching down to the other end of the pitch and feeding Nick DeLeon for a goal just two minutes later. Goalkeeper Bill Gaudette had it covered, but somehow just couldn't make the save.
Even with the game level, New York remained in control of the game on both sides of halftime - that is, until DeRo struck. Of course it had to be Dwayne DeRosario - who spent about three months with RBNY last season before being traded to DC and being named league MVP—who raced downfield and scored the go-ahead goal with about 20 minutes left to play. Bill Gaudette (again!) came way off his line to try and squash the play and ended up paying for it. And wouldn't you know it, the goal was DeRo's 100th MLS regular season goal. The RFK crowd—reported generously as 10,303 in attendance—were overjoyed, and DC seemed ready to shut the game down and take the three points.
The story lines were all set: DeRo becomes the 7th MLS player to hit 100 career goals! DC United vaults back into the playoff hunt! New York stumbles at RFK again! Hans Backe's three-year long undefeated record (33-0-12) when scoring first would be ruined! Fan frustration started to set in: why was Kenny Cooper subbing in so late? Can we have Ryan Meara back in goal? And, as is asked most every game, what was Hans Backe thinking?
But then, in an instant, the story lines changed. With two minutes to go, Wilman Conde - who was having a terrific game at left back—took a run onto a loose ball near DC's box, and with three defenders closing in on him, struck it perfectly with his weaker right foot. The shot sailed through the crowd of defenders and into the upper right corner of the net, stunning RFK. Conde's goal was not only his first since joining New York, not only preserved the point, not only saved the undefeated when scoring first record, and not only ruined what would've become the DeRo Show, but also came on his 30th birthday. We hope that Conde celebrated in style, preferably without another run-in with the law.
Video of Conde's golazo:
Full match highlights:
Despite not taking the top spot in the Eastern Conference in two opportunities this week, taking points away from playoff competitors is always a plus. With eight weeks left in the season, the tightening Eastern Conference has seven teams fighting for five playoff spots. Luckily for New York, five of their last seven games are at home, where they remain undefeated. Should their form in Harrison keep up, they will easily make the post-season.
For now, the team gets a bit of rest. With no game this weekend and a World Cup Qualification break beginning immediately thereafter, the Red Bulls are off until September 15th, when they'll take on the Columbus Crew at home.