Jesse Marsch predicted that the Red Bulls-D.C. United Eastern Conference Semifinals series wouldn’t be decided until the final minutes of the second leg.
It turns out that the Red Bulls‘ head coach was right.
In a hotly contested two-legged series, New York finally vanquished their rival late into extra time Sunday, as Bradley Wright-Phillips’ 90th-minute goal sealed the home side’s passage into the Conference Finals with a 1-0 second-leg victory and a 2-0 series win on aggregate.
As Wright-Phillips was about to coolly slot the ball past D.C. United goalkeeper Bill Hamid, the sellout crowd at Red Bull Arena rose to a crescendo, knowing what the goal meant for a club that navigated through such offseason turmoil.
After a hard-fought match, the Supporters’ Shield winners would be one step closer to lifting MLS Cup.
When asked about what he was going through his mind when he saw the goal, Marsch responded with one word: “Jubilation.”
“I think our fans and their excitement, the energy of the stadium, was rewarded with a big play at the end of the game,” he added. “I mean, that’s what we try to figure out a way to do, is to just make a play to give everybody a chance to congratulate this team, to experience this team, for the energy of the crowd to get rewarded. So yeah, I felt very good about that moment too and we just want to keep going. We just want to survive and keep going.”
Dominant and never seemingly threatened by the D.C. United attack, the Red Bulls held their rivals scoreless for over 180 minutes through the two legs. D.C. United managed to only trouble Luis Robleswith two shots on goal.
Despite going into the second leg behind on aggregate, the visitors opted for a puzzling defensive strategy. By not taking many risks and keeping it tight, the away side held the Red Bulls in check but didn’t offer much going forward. In three games at Red Bull Arena this season – regular season and Sunday’s playoff match – D.C. United was held scoreless.
“I thought [D.C. United] would come out more in this game,” Red Bulls captain Dax McCarty said post-match. “Obviously, I think that shows they had a great respect for us and what we’re able to do at home. So, I was definitely surprised at how much they sat in.”
What D.C. did do a good job of over two legs was making it a battle of attrition. Thunderous challenges were being thrown in on both sides. Robles felt the effects of the physical play, taking a boot from D.C. United’s Chris Rolfe square in the forearm in the first half. The Red Bulls’ goalie wasn’t surprised by the blunt force the opposition was dishing out on the pitch.
“We’re playing D.C United, it’s always going to be chippy,” he said. “They had a point to prove as well. We knew there were moments where they would be really direct. Did we expect them to play as direct as they did? Not necessarily, but that also shows the tactical awareness of the guys on the field to make the adjustments.”
Eastern Conference Final Set
Hours after their series victory, the Red Bulls learned that they’d take on the Columbus Crew in the Eastern Conference Final.
Down on aggregate, the Crew manage to rally in the late stages of Sunday’s match against the Montreal Impact. A goal from Ethan Finlay in the 77th minute forced extra time, which set the stage for Kei Kamara’s dramatic series winner in the 111th minute.
The Red Bulls won the season series 2-1, but each contest was a one-goal encounter with the final score ending 2-1 in all three matches. While the D.C. United series was more of a defensive struggle, the Eastern Conference Final should feature more expansive play.
“I think that the way that [Columbus play] and spread the field and the way that our style kind of contrasts with their style, kind of sets up for a really good series,” Marsch said when looking ahead.
Due to the international break, the MLS Playoffs will take a one-week hiatus and resume on Sunday, Nov. 22 in Columbus. The Red Bulls host the home portion of the series at Red Bull Arena on Sunday, Nov. 29.
The time off will be a welcomed respite for the teams involved. The Red Bulls suffered injuries to Shaun Wright-Phillips and Kemar Lawrence during Sunday’s win.
“At this point of the season, you’ll take the rest any day of the week,” McCarty said. “We’re fit, we have a tremendous base of fitness, we’re in a good vein of form. But we’re always going to take some time off if can get it because the body needs to recover.”