For a moment Sunday, all was right in D.C. United's world. Then, as coach Ben Olsen put it, the "Geiger show" took over — as in referee Mark Geiger.
What unfolded in the dying stages at RFK Stadium was a circus of controversy that saw United captain Dwayne De Rosario's go-ahead penalty kick taken off the board, three players ejected and the D.C. contingent in disbelief as the club settled for a 1-1 draw against the Philadelphia Union.
"He wants to make the big call to change games," Olsen said of Geiger. "It was his show tonight. It's not about the players."
After answering Brian Carroll's early opener by forcing a second-half own goal, United (11-8-4) appeared to take the lead in the 86th minute when Chris Pontius drew a penalty kick and De Rosario converted from the spot, sending the D.C. faithful into a brief euphoria.
But Geiger waved off the goal, citing United striker Hamdi Salihi for encroachment on the kick — a rule often violated yet rarely called. In a scuffle that ensued, D.C. midfielder Branko Boskovic received a red card for shoving Philadelphia's Roger Torres.
When it eventually came time for De Rosario, the reigning league Most Valuable Player, to retake the kick, he skied his effort over.
"To have the opportunity to score, and then all that happens with a red card, and you have to take it again and miss, it's frustrating," De Rosario said. "I still should have scored it."
As the game went into stoppage time, matters got out of hand.
United center back Emiliano Dudar was tossed for an ugly slide tackle on the Union's Antoine Hoppenot. Minutes later, Philadelphia right back Sheanon Williams saw red as well when he picked up a second yellow for a foul on Pontius.
Geiger, fresh off his stint officiating at the London Olympics, mercifully blew the final whistle after six minutes of stoppage time, snapping United's seven-game winning streak at home.
"We have to be a little bit smarter about how we keep our heads down the stretch," Olsen said. "But that's what happens when referees don't control games and don't have a good pulse of what's going on out there. It starts to boil over."
The match had its fair share of drama built in, considering the teams' budding rivalry in Philadelphia's third MLS season and a recent trade between the two clubs.
Three days after United and the Union (7-12-3) completed a swap that sent forward Lionard Pajoy to the nation's capital and winger Danny Cruz up Interstate 95, both players started and played 57 minutes. Philadelphia's lineup also featured onetime United prodigy Freddy Adu playing his first game at RFK as a visitor.
But it was another ex-United player who opened the scoring when Carroll slammed home his shot in the goal-mouth scramble for an Adu free kick.
The eighth-minute strike was the first goal of the season for Carroll, who played with United from 2003 to 2007.
D.C. thought it had drawn level in the 63rd minute when Nick DeLeon buried his shot, only for Geiger to blow the play dead, ruling that Salihi interfered with Union goalkeeper Zac MacMath.
Replays, however, showed it actually was MacMath's teammate, left back Gabriel Farfan, who knocked the ball out of the goalkeeper's grasp — kicking off the evening's chorus of boos and player protests.
"[Geiger] was confused for all the decisions," Salihi said, "for us and Philadelphia."
United finally drew even in the 71st minute. MacMath, a second-year player who has endured his fair share of struggles for Philadelphia this season, allowed a suspect tally as Boskovic's free kick deflected off Union defender Amobi Okugo and trickled in.
It turned out to be the game's final goal. The drama, though, had only gotten started.
"If I gave you my real opinion, I'd probably get suspended — for the rest of the season," United goalkeeper Bill Hamid said. "But I’m baffled. I’ve never seen anything like this."
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