It was far from pretty, but D.C. United’s first playoff game in five years Saturday sure was entertaining.
In a match that featured a missed penalty kick, a red card after two rapid-fire cautions, and, most bizarrely, the teams trading own goals four minutes apart, United and the New York Red Bulls will enter Wednesday’s second leg tied 1-1.
My account from RFK Stadium examines the mistake-prone nature of both sides in the Eastern Conference semifinal opener, while my story in Monday’s print edition looks at United’s upbeat approach ahead of Game 2. And Times photographer Craig Bisacre captured the images of the match with a photo gallery.
Here are some other notes and observations from the first leg:
— United coach Ben Olsen said Chris Pontius played his best game in months, and I couldn’t agree more. Although he did miss a penalty kick, Pontius aside from that one strike of the ball was a force for D.C. He beat Red Bulls rookie Connor Lade time and time again, using his full arsenal: speed, strength and skill. That is the type of performance you want to see out of your team MVP and (fill-in) captain in the postseason.
— Midfielder Perry Kitchen may have enjoyed the finest game of his professional career. The second-year player’s ferocity in the middle has never been in question. But his positioning and distribution have been works in progress. Against New York, though, Kitchen went for the right tackles and, more impressively, got involved in the attack by pinging passes all over the field.
— Forward Lionard Pajoy continues to do everything right … until it comes time to pass or shoot. Pajoy’s work rate and physicality bothered the Red Bulls all night, and he also put himself in good spots in the final third. If he could have picked the right pass or buried a chance just once in Game 1, the conversation ahead of the second leg would be quite different.
— Right back Andy Najar losing his cool was inexcusable. After the match, Najar said via a translator that he didn’t see Jair Marrufo when he threw the ball and just so happened to strike the referee. That seems like a stretch. Considering New York still looked toothless going forward even after Najar’s ejection, United very well could have grabbed a winner if the teenager had stayed on the field.
— Captain Dwayne De Rosario (questionable while recovering from a sprained MCL) was tight-lipped in the locker room on the prospect of seeing minutes Wednesday. “We’ll take it day-to-day. … I felt good. We’ll see.”