Have you ever gone to a sporting event thinking that your team deserved to lose, but you'll take the good result? D.C. United is in the playoffs, thanks to its stellar performance in the early part of the season and despite its wretched finish. Our first-round opponent was Red Bull New York, a team we beat three of the five times we faced them, tying them the other two games. An interesting wrinkle is that New York hired a new coach late in the season, former United (and U.S. National Team) head coach, Bruce Arena.
The first-round playoff format is two games, with aggregate goals the determinant of who advances. So if Team A wins the first game 1-0, but Team B wins the second 2-0, Team A is knocked out. If the two teams are tied in aggregate goals after the two games, there's a 30-minute overtime, and if they're still tied, the winner is decided by penalty kicks. The first game was played in New York -- we were at Flugtag, so I didn't get to watch it, but from what I know United won a fairly even match, 1-0, getting a beautiful goal from our team's, and possibly the league's, most valuable player, Christian Gomez (video highlights can be found here). So in last night's second game, all we needed was a tie to advance to the next round.
With no baby in sight, I went to the game, and the atmosphere was great. We were jumping and chanting, loud and enthusiastic.
From the opening kickoff, New York controlled the game. They were attacking, and they were physical. To some degree United looked content to sit back, but in other ways United simply looked out of sorts. Several players were underperforming, while one player in particular, defender Facundo Erpen, was simply bad, despite normally being one of our better players. At halftime we were content to find ourselves in a scoreless draw, as Red Bull had looked far more dangerous. In the second half, we looked somewhat better, but we were giving New York far too many opportunities. Shortly after we nearly scored, Red Bull converted a free kick from just outside the penalty box, and took a 1-0 lead.
With only a few minutes left, however, Gomez got the ball on the left side of the goal, and calmly shot it past the goalie to make it 1-1. The crowd went absolutely nuts, all of the evening's frustration overcome in that one moment. We held on for the remainder and got the needed tie.
Our next opponent will be the New England Revolution, a team that beat us in DC toward the end of the season, and one of the hottest teams in the league. The Conference Final is determined by a single game, this Sunday here. We were fortunate to get past New York, but if we play the Revs like we played yesterday, I can't see the team getting lucky for a second time in a row.