HARRISON, N.J.—Who needs home field advantage?
D.C. United beat Red Bull New York last night, 1-0, to win the Major League Soccer Eastern Conference semifinals 2-1 on aggregate goals after two games. Those two games, of course, saw one location switch, one snow-out, two saved penalty kicks, one made-but-then-washed-out penalty kick, two red cards for D.C. United players, one red card to a Red Bull, and quite a few hours up and down the New Jersey Turnpike for several hundred hardcore United fans.
Those fans, whom I joined last night at Red Bull Arena, were delirious when midfielder Nick DeLeon scored the series-winning goal in the 83rd minute last night. By then, United had overcome the ejection of starting goalkeeper Bill Hamid, who drew a penalty about 15 minutes before then that substitute goalie Joe Willis had to face. Red Bull’s Kenny Cooper made the shot, but had to retake it after several of his teammates crept halfway to the goal, a violation of the rules; Willis saved the second chance, the first time he’d touched the ball in the game. When DeLeon scored, he ran immediately over to the edge of the field and pointed up to us in the upper deck, where the Barra Brava, District Ultras, La Norte, Screaming Eagles, and assorted other fans had been chanting, jumping, drumming, and waving flags all night. At the final whistle, the rest of the team came over, too. Watch the video below:
Red Bull security kept United’s fans penned in our sections for a good 20 minutes after the game ended, “for everybody’s safety,” one told me. But there was no risk of hooliganism: The New York crowd was sparse to begin with, a casualty of the still-hurricane-damaged public transit system in New York and northern New Jersey, and of years of playoff failure for Red Bull. The home fans had started trickling to the exits even before the game ended. As United owner Will Chang mingled with D.C. fans while we waited to leave, a few Red Bull faithful stood safely in the lower bowl, yelling and pointing at their crotches. Maybe that made them feel better about losing. It certainly made United fans feel better about winning.
Now D.C. will play Houston Dynamo in a home-and-away series for the conference final, beginning Sunday at 4 p.m. in Houston. The home leg will be Sunday, Nov. 18, at 4 p.m. at RFK Stadium. If they win, United would host the MLS Cup final at RFK on Saturday, Dec. 1.
It’s been a long road back to glory for United—which, as team president Kevin Payne noted to reporters after last night’s finish, remains the most successful club in league history—as it hadn’t made the playoffs since 2007. Worth noting, though beating Houston won’t be easy: Since MLS was founded in 1996, every year that an incumbent president has won reelection, United has won the MLS Cup (1996 and 2004). Might there be a replacement D.C. sports/politics connection for the now-defunct Pigskins Rule?
Photo and video by Mike Madden