In the movie version of Thursday night's New York Red Bulls vs. DC United Major League Soccer Playoffs showdown, RBNY captain Thierry Henry steps up and buries an equalizer from a stoppage time free kick, a famous goal that ultimately propels New York to a historic win that lifts the spirits of a fan base that has gone through hell in the past couple of weeks. The real world is far too cruel for such an uplifting story, of course, and thus the gut-punch late goal scored by DC's Nick DeLeon and the 1-0 scoreline in favor of United is somehow fitting. As usual with this franchise, those in the Red Bulls team only have themselves to blame for yet another postseason disappointment in the Hans Backe era that likely came to an end last night.
Wash, rinse, repeat.
DC United defeat NY Red Bulls: Money not earned
Disgruntled RBNY supporters who want to point fingers following the team's final loss of 2012 should look no further than New York's three designated players. Tim Cahill was largely an invisible man minus one moment of play that would have resulted in an assist had Dax McCarty been able to put his shot on goal. Rafa Marquez was an absolute boss in the back until he predictably and almost laughably picked up what has to be the stupidest second yellow card of the campaign, an incident that would really be the perfect way for the Mexican international to finish off his MLS career.
Then there's the curious case of Thierry Henry. Not only was the living legend guilty of making the worst mistake of New York's 2012 season (more on that later), but he also stepped aside and allowed Roy Miller to take the final free kick of the game, a kick that was sailed into the stands. Henry had himself an OK and maybe even a good game against DC. Good isn't good enough at this time of the year, especially when speaking about DPs. It may not be nice to say, but Cahill, Marquez and Henry failed their teammates and all New York supporters on Thursday.
DC United defeat NY Red Bulls: The PK
Referee Mark Geiger was somewhere between poor and "somebody pays you to officiate matches?" last night, but he got the two biggest calls of the game right. Replays showed that DC goalkeeper Bill Hamid clearly clipped Kenny Cooper in the penalty area when the RBNY front man was free and clear, a challenge worthy of a red card on any day in any league. Geiger was also right to force Cooper to retake his PK after Henry needlessly led an early charge into the box before Cooper deposited what should have been the match opener.
What I need explained to me is how any Red Bulls player, most notably the team's captain, could make such an avoidable error. Say what you will about Cooper's method of taking penalties, one that involves several stutter steps. It's a method Cooper always utilizes, one we saw from the big man in New York's regular season finale against Philadelphia Union two weeks ago. Henry and company weren't ready for Cooper's hesitation for whatever reason, though, and Geiger correctly waved off the goal that could have sent New York through into the conference final.
DC United defeat NY Red Bulls: Two final miscues
Both Markus Holgersson and Connor Lade evolved into players capable of featuring for a championship side in 2012. Unfortunately for the Red Bulls, both were also responsible for mistakes that gifted United the opportunity to find a goal late in the game. Holgersson's inability to deal with a high headed ball sprung DC on a counterattack two minutes from time, a counterattack that would have resulted in a RBNY free kick had Lade positioned himself properly inside the New York penalty area. The rookie dropped back at the worst possible time, however, keeping Nick DeLeon onside long enough for the DC man to accept a through ball and score the only goal of the contest.
Perhaps the most painful thing about New York's latest loss is that it was a "back to full circle" defeat. Marquez was a goat, Henry wasn't heroic when heroics were desperately needed, the back line folded and hung a goalkeeper out to dry, Backe waited too long to switch things up, and the team's lack of depth left the head coach with no real attacking options when an equalizer was necessary. In short, the Red Bulls weren't good enough on Thursday, just as they weren't throughout portions of the 2012 regular season.
DC United defeat NY Red Bulls: Overall
I've often stated that the Red Bulls are more Mets than Yankees and more Jets than Giants. Never before has that been more true than it was on Thursday evening. When hosting a playoff game against their biggest rivals, New York teased their broken fan base before snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, a loss that perfectly defines the "Same old Metro" and "That's so Metro" mantras that continue to haunt this franchise. 17 years. No cups.
The song remains the same.