For the second game in a row against D.C. United, the New York Red Bulls had a two-goal lead, dominated their rivals from the start, and came away with heads hanging after a 2-2 tie.
The press was working, possession was strong, chances were created and converted.
But DCU had chances too, and two of those chances were also converted. In the closing minutes of the game, the Red Bulls found themselves on the end of a micro-drubbing. Two goals conceded in six minutes snatched three points from RBNY's grasp, handed the team a home-field humiliation it hadn't experienced in a long time, and sent DC away with the Atlantic Cup and bragging rights for this season (DCU has two ties and a win in three games against the Red Bulls this year).
After Steve Birnbaum converted his goal to pull one back in the 89th minute and after the fourth official displayed 5 minutes of second half stoppage time, it was Lamar Neagle who found space and a little time to tap in the equalizer for DCU.
"They were better in a lot of the facets of the game, but what I don't doubt from my group is the courage and belief to try to salvage something on the day where we weren't that great," said DC head coach Ben Olsen, "Things were a little bit against us, we thought there should've been a foul called on the first goal and then the second it was a square ball so in some ways we played into their hands.
But we kept on fighting and when you play against Sacha [Kljestan] and Bradley [Wright-Phillips] you're in for it: they're as any good players in this league. This helps us and a point in the Eastern Conference goes a long way and right now this counts."
This match did start off a bit slow for the Red Bulls. They were missing both Mike Grella and Alex Muyl - on yellow card accumulation suspensions - so Daniel Royer and Gonzalo Veron started on the wings in the midfield. Gonzalo Veron earned his third goal of the season in the 35th minute and gave the home side the advantage.
Sacha Kljestan received a good ball and attacked down the far side and tight-roped the end line. He tried to chip Bill Hamid, it deflected off the DC keeper, but there was no clearance by the defense - and that allowed Veron to sneak in and put a head on the ball for the early lead.
The second came from Bradley Wright-Phillips - who else?. He was clicking with Daniel Royer, who was enjoying a good game on the right flank in his first start for RBNY. A nice pass from the Austrian into space and all BWP did was power that shot past Bill Hamid.
BWP's 18th of the season and his 62nd goal within a three-season span is a new record in MLS, passing the mark Chris Wondolowski set with his work from 2010 to 2012.
With hindsight, what hurt RBNY was not finishing its other chances. Two of those chances came from Sacha Kljestan as he nailed the post twice, once in each half. He was able to beat Hamid, but the woodwork was not kind to him. He would nail the back post and out in first-half stoppage time, then in the 74th minute his shot would hit the inside of the far post and ricochet out.
But head coach Jesse Marsch was only negative about the result, not the performance. "I'm gutted for our guys, but I believe they still established themselves as a good team," said Marsch, "It could've been three or four, but it's been frustrating how you give up points late in games and you wonder how in the world does this continue to happen.
But I thought the game was under control and it came down to scrambles in the box and you come in second on a couple of plays - and I am still on a glass half-full. Tactically, what we do is strong and sometimes we do things to ourselves the hard way, but this is still a good team."
The return of Lloyd Sam was an interesting moment as his name was cheered when it was announced during the starting lineup. He had his best chance to turn the crowd against him in the second half with a one-on-one Luis Robles, but the RBNY 'keeper guessed his old teammate's intention and made the save.
This counts as points dropped for the Red Bulls, but only have to wait a few days for the chance to redeem themselves. Next up is CONCACAF Champions League. RBNY will host Alianza FC of El Salvador on Thursday night. We hope for a better result so the team can be ready for the bigger challenge: next weekend's trip to Canada to battle Toronto FC for first place in the MLS Eastern Conference.