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Drilling down on: D.C. United 1, at New York 0

Nov 8, 2012, 10:36 PM EDT

Nick DeLeon,  Lionard Pajoy, Chris Pontius

The men of D.C. United keep doing what they do best these days, find a way. Any way, and quite often by the teeny tiniest of margins, through these 1-0 squeakers.

An 88th minute goal game United its latest 1-0 win, and definitely its biggest.

But that’s all it takes. Just one goal Thursday from Red Bull Arena decided what will be written as one of Major League Soccer all-time post-season memory makers, for reasons good and bad.

Quick recap of what this absolutely bananas two-leg conference semifinal series had: a Hurricane Sandy-related (and somewhat controversial) venue swap, a 24-hour match postponement due to a different winter storm, two own goals, two missed penalty kicks, one rare penalty kick retake order, three red cards and then the late, game-winner from a rookie.

While D.C. United, which advanced 2-1 on aggregate, prepares for the Eastern Conference finals against Houston, New York could well be prepping for a coaching change … and who knows what the team’s quirky management will do with an expensive, underachieving roster?

Man of the Match:

D.C. United rookie Nick DeLeon may go on to play year after glorious year in Major League Soccer and yet never score a bigger goal. He shook free (exploiting the positional gaffe of a fellow rookie) to take a clever pass from right back Robbie Russell and made no mistake with his right-footed finish in the 88th minute.

Threesome of knowledge: What we learned

Referee Mark Geiger got things right:

D.C. United goalkeeper Bill Hamid was apoplectic, but he was wrong. Referee Mark Geiger got this one right, as Hamid made contact with the onrushing Kenny Cooper with about 20 minutes remaining.

Hamid has done this before, getting out of control as he rushes out to confront shooters. Given the situation, Geiger had no choice; It’s a red card and a penalty kick – although Hamid was quite close to the edge of the penalty area.

Then the choice to order a re-take after Cooper nailed the original penalty kick? Geiger was right on that one, too.

It’s not a decision we see very often, and surely one that should only be ordered on egregious violations. Thierry Henry, getting about three big steps into the penalty area (trailed by two encroaching teammates) qualifies as egregious.

Cooper’s signature stutter-step worked against Henry and his teammates here – but they’ve seen Cooper do this before, right? We certainly have.

Oh, and Rafa Marquez’s red card (two yellows, that is)? Yep. That one was easy for Geiger.

Missed opportunities, the scourge of the Eastern Conference playoffs so far:

Let’s be clear, this wasn’t the orgy of squander we saw last night from Kansas City, where the Eastern Conference champs crashed out of the MLS playoffs while missing chances after begging chance. But the Red Bulls’ finishing simply wasn’t good enough Thursday. When you take a 0-0 match into the late minutes at home, you’ve left yourself open to the possibility of something unforeseen – like a goal against the run of play from a rookie.

That came about 15 minutes after United backup goalkeeper Joe Willis saved Cooper’s penalty kick. It came about five minutes after Dax McCarty skied a brilliant arrangement from Henry (who was far more lively and energetic in this one that in Saturday’s first leg in Washington.)

Henry went just wide off Cooper’s cross in the second half. Before the break, New York failed to score on three shots from in close as United struggled to clear the ball.

Again, we see that the MLS playoffs are all about timing:

The talented teams keep falling, Sporting Kansas City and San Jose last night, and star-strewn New York tonight.

And that’s not such a shocker, historically speaking; it’s been said so many times that this is MLS Playoff cliché No. 1, but here it is again: More than being about having the best team, MLS playoffs are really about being hot at the right time.

D.C. United certainly is, now 6-0-3 over the last two months. All this, of course, without their best player, Dwayne De Rosario.

Beyond strong and headstrong play from Chris Pontius, Brandon McDonald, DeLeon, Perry Kitchen and a couple of others, the side is thriving on belief and desire – and that’s a powerful marriage when the blend and the timing is stacked just so.

Packaged for take-away

  • Of all the shockers in this one, how about this for the night’s top head-scratcher: Awarded a free kick two minutes into stoppage time, from the top of the penalty area, with Henry standing over the ball and the season in the balance — reserve New York left back Roy Miller took the shot. Roy. Miller. That’s just not something that can be explained.
  • Kenny Cooper was 10 for 10 in spot kicks in MLS before tonight.
  • Best, ongoing battle of the night: DCU striker Lionard Pajoy and Red Bulls center back Markus Holggerson.
  • Rafa Marquez? There’s just too much to say for this post. We’ll have more later.
  • Willis was United’s starter in goal to begin the season and he very nearly kept the injured Hamid on the bench for an extended run. He’ll be in goal for at least one more while Hamid sits for the mandatory one-game suspension.
  • New York outshot the visitors 18-8.
  • Geiger was also the man in the middle on another “re-take-gate.” In that one, D.C. United was the offending party, and team president Kevin Payne had some very unkind words for Geiger, who had ordered a penalty kick re-take against his team.

Match highlights are here:

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  1. danielofthedale - Nov 8, 2012 at 10:47 PM

    This has to be last game that the Red Bulls pay Rafa for right? I mean he has no been red cared in two of the last three playoff games the Red Bulls have played in for stupid off the ball fouls. This time he got ejected before New York even had a chance to use its man advantage. Its a gots to go situation!

  2. Dan Haug - Nov 8, 2012 at 10:48 PM

    I think fans should acknowledge that, up to this point, refs have been outstanding in this post-season. Yeah… they’ve missed some calls, but they have let teams play without letting things get out of hand, and they have gotten almost all the big calls right.

  3. mkbryant3 - Nov 8, 2012 at 10:53 PM

    Wow! I tuned in at half time and couldn’t be happier for DC United. What a great story. Most of all, the ref was spot on, as you said SD. For all the crap MLS refs receive (justly, most of the time), the ref tonight didn’t make a bad call in the second half. Especially that pk encroachment call.

    You gotta love when MLS players have something immediate to play for. It creates incredible soccer and incredible drama.

  4. mkbryant3 - Nov 8, 2012 at 10:56 PM

    Oh, is DeRo back for the next game? Can’t be, right? But, seems like there have been rumblings of him being back soon. If so, incredible.

    One more thing. Hamid needs to grow up. He’s young, but what, was he on his laptop right away in the locker room to tweet that “Martini” criticism? Weird.

  5. arjanroghanchi - Nov 8, 2012 at 11:12 PM

    Additionally packaged for take away:

    Though Hamid did make contact, Cooper went down far too easily. I was in a perfect spot to see this, 10 rows back. Cooper’s touch (for about the only time in the match) was perfect. The ball was in space and in reach, all he had to do was jump over the on rushing Hamid and he could have scored and easy goal. Lesson: even if a could has occurred, flailing to the ground is not the best course of action.

    Kaka’s bro actually had a legitimate chance to score the winner. His first touch came seconds after he entered off an Henry free kick. Free header, great angle towards goal. Digao just couldn’t connect with it and ended up heading it straight down.

    I’ll miss Backe, because it is surely his last match. I think he did a lot of great things.

    Teemu played very well.

    There is always next season I guess.

  6. tylerbetts - Nov 9, 2012 at 8:29 AM

    Two amazing takeaways:

    1) Bill Hamid is RBNY’s leading goal scorer this post season. let that sink in for a moment.

    2) Rafa Marquez makes a great case for continuing the YSA chant, just with a different target.

    In all seriousness, you have to love DCU’s tenacity and never-say-die approach. How many teams would have fought like that after their ‘keeper was red carded and a penalty given that late? How many teams would have found that goal that late in the game and series? It’s probably a slight overreaction and giving in to my impulse for immediacy, but this might put Ben Olsen ahead of Jason Kreis in the pecking order of who I want to see groomed to be the USMNT manager.

  7. soccerjohn - Nov 9, 2012 at 11:48 AM

    This was a really entertaining game. Lots of drama, lots of action, and I love the outcome. Ref called it “no blood no foul,” but called it the same both ways.

    Kenny Cooper: regression to the mean.
    Marquez: I’ll comment on the post when I read it…but, yeah.
    Hamid: So rough around the edges. Great reactions and I think his positioning seems okay. But can’t hold onto the ball if challenged for it and makes serious gaffes each game.

    How utterly fantastic that DCU has the inside track to the Finals?!

  8. soccerjohn - Nov 9, 2012 at 12:15 PM

    One more thing: the fantastic clustermess that is NYRB has yielded bigger scapegoats related to other gaffes, but Dax McCarty’s misses were another big reason DCU moves on. Notice I don’t pin all the blame on McCarty, though. I think he ought to shoulder some of the blame. But I also think that the team culture is culpable. When the verteran stars on the team (Henry, Marquez) create such a negative atmosphere in the locker room by demeaning their teammates, and when Henry makes a big show of disgust whenever the young talent screws up, it’s gonna make most non-stars tight. Look at replays of McCarty’s misses, especially the last one that was created by Henry, and check out the dismayed reaction of the older star.

    I think that was the difference last night. DCU won as a team. NYRB lost because it’s rotten at its core.

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