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Drilling down on: at D.C. United 1, New York Red Bulls 1

Nov 3, 2012, 10:58 PM EDT

New York Red Bulls v DC United - Eastern Conference Semifinals Getty Images

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.
  1. donjuego - Nov 4, 2012 at 1:09 AM

    Hamid clearly got hip checked by the NYR who was right there. I thought it looked like a foul live — and the replay was absolutely clear that it was. Another horrific decision by the AR who should have seen that and flagged it.

    Finally — since when can defenders tap the ball back to the goalkeeper, have same pick the ball up, and it not be an indirect kick?

    Those were two mind-numbingly bad decisions by the referee crew.

  2. novisaddude - Nov 4, 2012 at 1:52 AM

    And, how is it “clearly advantage” for NY?

    • meeremia - Nov 4, 2012 at 7:19 AM

      DC and NY combined for three home losses this year, and only one of them has a game in the comfy confines of their own place now: NY. Not to mention, Najar will be suspended. It’s not because of anything they did, but the Red Bulls have a sizable advantage in the series now.

      • novisaddude - Nov 4, 2012 at 1:16 PM

        While this is a valid point, DCU created more chances and was able to contain NY’s offense, in my opinion. It was their inexperience which kept the score tied, but I don’t see them going to NJ lacking any confidence. Replacing Lionard “Oh look, I was caught offside again” Pajoy with Santos can change the complexion up front and provide finishing they have been missing in the first game. Regardless, everything should be set for a great game.

    • Steve Davis - Nov 4, 2012 at 8:33 AM

      You don’t think taking a score that’s all level back to your home ground gives one team an advantage? Minus one of your top players? Well, OK … that’s you opinion. You are entitled to it.

      By the way, I edited your comment. As you suggest, it IS a place for soccer news. But it isn’t a place for silly name calling and other juvenile stuff. If you can contribute to an adult conversation, by all means do. Otherwise, take it somewhere else.

      • novisaddude - Nov 4, 2012 at 12:52 PM

        You deleted the part where I called your article a biased garbage. Simply my opinion, no cursing or insults. Don’t confuse me trashing your article with being insulting or immature.

        As for the “clear advantage”, missing Najar is obviously a setback, but the way these two teams played, NY should be everything but confident.

        I still have trouble responding to almost anything you wrote. I would expect an article like this on a NY forum or something, not on a site calling itself “pro” soccer talk. “The rest of DC United’s men? Meh”. Like, which game are you talking about? Not even a token mention of DCU’s central defenders and them neutralizing NY’s attack. Surely they deserve at least a mention. And it just goes on.

        If you are NY fan, fine, support whomever you wish. But, when you write an article as biased as this one, don’t get all upset and defensive when you get criticized for it.

  3. soccerjohn - Nov 4, 2012 at 8:04 AM

    This was the kind of game that still makes watching MLS a chore sometimes. Two horrible own goals. Cringe-worthy officiating. (The image of Ben Olsen laughing in genuine, impotent disbelief spoke volumes.) A player throwing the ball at the ref. (!)

    I can deal with the limitations related to players. That’s evolving positively, and it’ll just take time for MLS to become a league that draws enough quality to be able to present consistently attractive games. But, I feel like the league could do more to get the officiating right, and that if the officiating were better the games would be played better by the talent that already exists. Watching MLS feels a lot to me like watching the USMNT play road games in CONCACAF. Seeing the better team win too often feels like more of a relief than a satisfying result.

    DCU and Najar have to play/behave well enough to win in whatever conditions exist. That’s what winners do. But I believe that if the game had been officiated better DCU would have won and Najar probably would have retained a sufficient proportion of his sanity to remain on the field. Instead, I agree that there’s a better chance we’ll see an inferior team go through. That just can’t be good for business in the MLS.

    • Steve Davis - Nov 4, 2012 at 8:35 AM

      All I will say here is that Jair Marrufo is not a good official — never has been. I was surprised to see the assignment. (Experienced does not = good)

  4. footballer4ever - Nov 4, 2012 at 10:06 AM

    Yes, fellow football fans, unless you are a ignorant-football hater, don’t pull a NAJAR on your comments. Keep it adult-like, if not classy, in your comments.

  5. footballer4ever - Nov 4, 2012 at 10:43 PM

    novisaddude said:
    “You deleted the part where I called your article a biased garbage. Simply my opinion, no cursing or insults. Don’t confuse me trashing your article with being insulting or immature”

    I am sure Steve Davis can defend himself; However, from a PST fan point of view, your comments/opinions are over the top. If you don’t agree, fine!, but calling his article a biased garbage just because you don’t agree is more than unacceptable… It’s simply thrashy attitude from your part. Clean up your act, filter your emotions from your words and only then you’d be credible and respected around here.
    Learn to agree to disagree with people in a respectful manner becauase as much as you tried to rationalize your statements, your explanation that followed expose your true colors.

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