New York had never won a playoff game in RFK Stadium and D.C. United made sure to keep it that way in the second leg of the Eastern Conference semifinals on Sunday night, settling to a 1-1 draw with the Red Bulls and advancing into the Eastern Conference finals on a 2-1 aggregate-goal score.
Christian Gomez came through in the clutch for the second-straight match, with an 86th-minute equalizer, only a week after knocking home the game-winner of the 1-0 first-leg contest. Josmer Altidore’s goal with 20 minutes remaining would not be enough for New York, leaving United to play host next weekend to the other Eastern Conference finalist, New England.
The scoreless first stanza seemed to offensively favor New York, as the Meadowlands squad outshot D.C. 6-1, with its best opportunity coming in the 25th minute off a Markus Schopp header. The 6’3″ midfielder took an upstairs attempt at a far-post floater, but could not put the ball beyond the goal line.
Four minutes prior, United saw its first chance to get on the board when Ben Olson sent in a long-distance cross to the opposite side that found Gomez alone on the far-post endline, catching goalkeeper Jon Conway off guard. The striker pulled the ball back and tried to chip it back to the right side, but was headed out by a New York defender.
Perhaps the best chance for the visitors came in the 61st when a play started by a long flank run ended at the foot of Altidore, whose eight-yard instep grazed the post.
As time elapsed, the offensive need grew for both squads. D.C.’s Freddie Adu carried the ball up the left wing before unleashing a low rocket, bringing Conway to make the diving push save. United’s Jaime Moreno collected the deflection and played the ball back to an approaching Alecko Eskandarian, who only provided bar music, keeping the game a no-goal stalemate.
That ended in the 70th minute, when 16-year-old Altidore scored the late-game opener off an Amado Guevara free kick. The striker redirected the cross into the left corner to tie up the aggregate scoring and give Guevara the 37th assist of his career, making him the all-time Red Bulls leader in that category.
Gomez popped the balloon of hope for New York with four minutes of soccer left, as the always-on striker stood alone on the far post and collected a Josh Gros cross to put away the advancing score. Gros placed the ball perfectly onto the far side of the box and in route Bobby Boswell provided the dummy as he took cover from the ball, allowing the cross to fall at the feet of an awaiting Gomez.
New York pressed in the final minutes, but could not muster a chance for overtime, bringing New York head coach Bruce Arena’s flawless 9-0-playoff record at RFK Stadium to an end. All nine wins came during his time in charge of D.C.
The old stadium trembled as its 21,455 fans finally burst into full voice and New York’s final, desperate high balls into the box were of no use as the home side killed off the remaining minutes to assure themselves of a berth in the conference final against New England.
On Sunday at 4:00 PM, the New England Revolution will be the opposition at RFK to decide the team that will represent the East in the MLS Cup. The New England Revolution advanced with a 4-2-shootout finish against Chicago on Saturday night.