- - Sunday, November 8, 2015

HARRISON, N.J. — Sprawled on his back in the visitors’ locker room at Red Bull Arena, Bill Hamid put his hands over his eyes and blocked out the postgame hustle and bustle.

Three years ago, the goalkeeper stood in that very spot, thumping his chest and rallying his teammates with cries of “they can’t hold us back” after D.C. United ended the New York Red Bulls’ season.

It was a night that has gone down in United lore — and one that remains the club’s only playoff series win since 2006. The top-seeded Red Bulls made sure of that on Sunday, triumphing 1-0 on the day and 2-0 overall in the two-game, total-goals Eastern Conference semifinal.

“We wanted more, but we weren’t able to produce on the field,” United captain Bobby Boswell said. “At the end of the day, we’re going to be watching.”

United entered the second leg in an unenviable hole, having fallen 1-0 at RFK Stadium last week. It was another gritty encounter on Sunday, with United largely weathering the storm and looking to scrap together a goal before Bradley Wright-Phillips’ 92nd-minute strike ended any hopes of a comeback.

“Those guys gave me everything, they gave the fans everything they had, and they followed our game plan to a T,” coach Ben Olsen said. “You can follow game plans and you can frustrate the other team, but in the end you’ve got to score the goal. Sometimes a little lack of quality there can cost you a series.”

The warning signs were prominent for a team that finished the regular season on a 2-6-1 skid, including a 5-0 loss to Columbus that dropped United to the conference’s fourth seed. Of the 12 teams that made the playoffs, only the Portland Timbers scored fewer goals this season than United.

After a 2-1 win over New England in the knockout round, United managed just two shots on goal throughout both matches against the Red Bulls while drastically losing the possession battle.

“We didn’t score, so it’s not good enough,” forward Fabian Espindola said. “It’s too many long balls, not much of a game between the [midfield and defensive] lines. And, they defended well.”

It was a disappointing end for United, which finished first in the Eastern Conference last season and found itself in the same position in mid-August. Although the club enjoyed success in the CONCACAF Champions League down the stretch, going 3-0-1 to book a spot in next year’s knockout stage, MLS action proved to be a struggle.

“We’ve had a pretty roller-coaster year from the way we started to how we were in the middle to ending the way we did now,” Boswell said. “It’s been some extremes and some lows. Sometimes you learn a lot about yourself in a year like this. I think everybody in here can say that they did. Depending on how we react from that, we might come out better people at the end.”

While United has qualified for the postseason for three of the past four years, the club still hasn’t advanced to an MLS Cup final since its fourth title in 2004. Regular starters Boswell, Espindola, Sean Franklin, Davy Arnaud, Chris Rolfe and Alvaro Saborio are all 30 or older, and younger stalwarts Perry Kitchen, Chris Pontius and Nick DeLeon find themselves out of contract.

It’s a situation that leaves Olsen and the United brass with plenty of questions to answer between now and the start of preseason in late January.

“Is this who we are? Are we peaked out?” Olsen asked rhetorically. “I don’t know — it’s a fair question. It’s something we’ll evaluate.”

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