The New York Red Bulls had not won a game at Gillette Stadium since 2002, until 2014. The Red Bulls had never won a playoff game at Red Bull Arena, until 2014. The Red Bulls had never beat D.C. United in a MLS Cup playoff series, until 2014. The Red Bulls continued their season of firsts with possibly the best loss in team history. The Red Bulls traveled to Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium in Washington D.C., with a 2 goal lead, to take on D.C. United, and lost 2-1, winning the two leg contest on aggregate 3-2.
12 buses and over 1200 Red Bull fans (this author included) made the trek down to RFK to see if the Red Bulls could manage to win a playoff series against D.C. United, and they didn't go home disappointed despite D.C.'s best efforts. The first 30 minutes of the game saw the Red Bulls doing their best bunkering impression while trying to hit on the counterattack.
In the 32nd minute, as Bradley Wright-Phillips was trying to center the ball to Thierry Henry, D.C. defender Bobby Boswell stopped the cross in the box, with his arm. The referee decided not to award a penalty kick, and the decision can be debated. One one hand, Boswell's turned as the ball was kicked and the part of the arm that was hit was not down next to his side. On the other, Boswell didn't really have time to react to the ball. Ultimately, the referee sided with Boswell and D.C., and it's hard to argue against the call.
In the 37th minute though, a defensive lapse led to D.C. United cutting the series deficit in half. The Red Bulls defense got pulled to the left while United crossed the ball to the wing, where a waiting Taylor Kemp was wide open and had time to make a cross. Nick DeLeon made a run between Jamison Olave and Ibrahim Sekagya and headed the ball past a left out to dry Luis Robles. Olave and Sekagya both failed on the play. Olave could've tried to head the ball away before it got to DeLeon and Sekagya should've went after the ball just in case Olave couldn't get there. The away support, going quiet for a few seconds never lost it's focus as it amped up the volume trying to support the Red Bulls. Wright-Phillips got a chance in during the 41st minute after muscling his way around the D.C. defense, but Bill Hamid was quickly off of his line and stopped the attack. The hosts would then take the lead into halftime, and it looked like the Red Bulls were heading to another early playoff exit.
Twelve minutes into the second half, the Red Bulls did something that changed how the rest of the game would play out. They scored an away goal. Thierry Henry got the ball out wide and put a cross in, with two Red Bull players in the area, Wright-Phillips, and Peguy Luyindula. Peguy was first in line and all he out to do was put his leg out to deflect the ball into the back of the net. It was such as simple play, but the effects of it were huge. Before the goal, D.C. only needed 1 goal to force Extra Time and 2 to win, but due to the Away Goal rule, D.C. was now forced to score 3 goals as a 3-3 tie would still be a win for the Red Bulls. The travelling support of course went nuts following the goal.
The last thirty minutes of the Red Bulls frantically defending while trying to relieve the pressure by countering D.C, but to no significant effect. In the 78th minute, Roy Miller did something stupid and put the Red Bulls in a bad position. A lofted ball came into Sean Franklin, and Miller, in an effort to win the ball, went in with a high foot. How high was it exactly? Franklin got kicked in the shoulder/chest without bending down at all. It wasn't even a question for Referee Ismail Elfath who almost immediately pulled a red card of out his pocket. Whether it was a red or not wouldn't have mattered as Miller was already on a yellow from a 42nd minute foul, so he would've been sent off the pitch either way. The yellow & red cards does mean however that Miller will not be available for either of the Red Bull's Eastern Conference Finals matches. He's suspended one for accumulation after picking up a yellow in the first leg, and gets an automatic one game suspension for the red.
The final 12 minutes (and 5 minutes of stoppage) was an exercise in bend but don't break defending. The Red Bulls managed to hold up until the 90th minute. As soon as the stoppage time was announced, D.C. United put in their second goal of the night. The Red Bulls couldn't clear the ball and Sean Franklin, all alone around the penalty spot blasted a bouncing ball from Steve Birnbaum to the left of Luis Robles. Robles was already going down and couldn't put enough behind his hands as the ball deflected off of him and into the net. It was too little too late though for United as they still needed to notch two more goals with only five minutes to do it.
Now the Red Bulls turn their focus to the Eastern Conference Finals and either the Columbus Crew or New England Revolution. In a year of first, this will officially be the Red Bulls first trip to the ECF as their previous two trips this far into the playoffs were in the "Western Conference" when teams could switch over in the playoffs. They'll be missing Roy Miller, but one of the benefits of this season is that Abroise Oyongo can slot in at left back. This is truly the time for whatever depth the Red Bulls have to step up, as both the Crew or Revolution are tough opposition. Making the MLS Cup final will not be an easy task.