|photo by Matt Kremkau
by Garry Redman
HARRISON, NJ - With less than 11 matches remaining in the MLS regular season, the "sprint to the finish" is on. The New York Red Bulls and D.C. United resumed their long-standing hostilities, making the long and desperate climb up the Eastern Conference table to be among the last nine teams standing come Decision Day in October.
D.C. United, occupying the final playoff spot, was looking to create some distance between them and their hated rivals, But Head Coach Troy Lesesene and his team were up to the challenge and have other ideas. Midfielder Omir Fernandez put it succinctly: "We are really focused on not making any excuses and being up for this challenge because it is going to be a challenge. Again, as I said, it is a rivalry game for us. We are going to play like it, and we are going to try to win this game for sure."
With four points separating each other, the stage was set for a tense rivalry match at Red Bull Arena.
Right from kickoff, the Red Bulls were looking to take the match directly to the visitors, as Dante Vanzier took a chance from outside the box, but he pulled his shot wide to his left. Not to be outdone, Cameron Harper delivered a terrifically sweet pass over to Vanzier, but he could not get his foot on the ball, as the ball soared disappointingly over the net.
However, Vanzier's night would come to an abrupt end as his leg got stepped on in the 28th minute, replaced by the much-maligned Tom Barlow.
Just before the half ended, Dru Yearwood took a pass from Daniel Edelman and skied his shot from outside the box as it sailed high and into the seats, frustrating both his head coach and the supporters alike.
And after a sleepy yet physical 45 minutes, both plodded their way through the half with very little to show for it.
The second half began like the first, as both teams sought an opening. Christian Benteke missed a shot to the left in the 60th minute, losing the chance to put his side in the lead. Theodore Ku-DiPietro hooked up with Cris Durkin for an opportunity for the visitors in the 79th minute, but even he couldn't hit the target, with his shot missing the mark to his right.
Manoel looked like he was fouled in the box, but the official saw nothing, and the play continued to the supporter's frustration. The frustration grew ever larger when Tom Barlow dashed down the pitch and delivered the ball over to Cameron Harper, but just like it was the case all evening for the home side, the ball was pulled wide.
But in the 87th minute, the Red Bulls finally broke through. Wiki Carmona won a free kick for his teammates, setting the stage for John Tolkin to put the ball in play, and he did not miss, scoring his first goal of the season with the ball curling around the wall the United defenders put up and ending up in the back of the net, as the supporters erupted in sheer delight.
As the final whistle blew, the Red Bulls moved ever closer to their objective while defeating their hated rivals as they begin the march to the playoffs. Ten matches remain, and the margin for error is ever so slight while each is played. For now, this will be a victory worth celebrating.
D.C. United: Tyler Miller, Ruan (Andy Najar 64’), Derrick Williams, Brendan Hines-Ike, Pedro Santos (Yamil Asad 90’), Steven Birnbaum, Russell Canouse, Chris Durkin, Gabriel Pirani (José Fajardo 79’), Cristian Dajome (Ted Ku-DiPietro 65’), Christian Benteke
New York Red Bulls: Carlos Coronel, Sean Nealis, John Tolkin (87'), Dru Yearwood (Peter Stroud 67’), Cameron Harper, Omir Fernandez (Kyle Duncan 67’), Daniel Edelman, Luquinhas, Elias Manoel (Wiki Carmona 85’), Dante Vanzeir (Tom Barlow 28’)
87' - New York Red Bulls - John Tolkin, unassisted
36' - D.C. United - Chris Durkin - Yellow Card
44' - New York Red Bulls - Dru Yearwood - Yellow Card
54' - D.C. United - Derrick Williams - Yellow Card
78' - New York Red Bulls - Andres Reyes - Yellow Card
82' - New York Red Bulls - Kyle Duncan - Yellow Card