By Elliot Sangara.
Fans were treated to an 8 goal thriller between DC United and the New York Red Bulls on a cold wet evening at Audi Stadium in Washington DC on Saturday night.
In a desperate attempt to reach the playoffs, both teams left nothing on the field as they battled for three points in the MLS Eastern Standings.
The rivalry between these two clubs has developed over the past decade as the Red Bulls became a hurdle that United weren’t able to overcome in their ill-fated attempt to reach the playoffs.
While both clubs have had indifferent seasons recently, the current MLS Eastern Standings left them five points apart in the table.
United were only seven points away from 7th place Nashville SC and 7th place guarantees a playoff position.
Both sets of players knew how important three points would be for their respective clubs, and they both played that way.
The intensity and determination made for an exciting match with plenty of goals and plenty of defensive headaches for both managers.
Red Bulls struck first with a well-worked goal coming from the right side. Cameron Harper, a California native playing right back, received the ball toward the edge of the DC United box. He had all the time in the world to collect it and decide what he should do because Donovan Pines was slow to close him down.
Harper took a great touch to control the ball and saw Omir Fernandez positioning himself to receive a cross in the box. Harper made the pass and, on his first touch, Fernandez fired past DC United goalkeeper Alex Bono with a defender desperately trailing him the entire way. While it was a well-worked goal, Bono should have done better.
DC United responded quickly through their main attacking threat as the big Belgian Christian Benteke scored a hat trick.
The first Benteke goal came off a DC United corner. Red Bulls defender Daniel Edelman tried to clear the ball as it was swinging in from the right side, but Chris Durkin jumped up with Edelman to fight for the ball.
As both players went up for the ball, Durkin used his shoulder to challenge Edelman. The challenge forced Edelman to mistime his header, which redirected the ball into the box in the path of Benteke who made no mistake and smashed it into the top corner with his head.
The first half continued like this, both teams scoring and fighting for control of the match. United continued to send long balls into the box for Benteke to feed off, and it created their second goal.
A long ball into the box to Benteke was flicked on to Matheuz Klich who passed it back to Benteke. Red Bulls goalkeeper Carlos Coronel tried to intercept the pass to Benteke, but it was no use. The striker made it 2-1.
The first half ended 3-3 with both teams giving up penalties for poor tackles in the box. The Red Bull players were aware that their plan to control Benteke had failed miserably.
However, the second half would prove more fruitful for the team from New York. Red Bull captain and 6-foot-5 defender Sean Nealis ran away from his marker during a 57th-minute corner kick. Left unmarked in the box he connected with the ball perfectly and made it 4-3.
New York had regained the momentum and now they wouldn’t let it slip. United fought back hard, and Andy Najar almost had an assist in the 74th minute when he curled a cross into the box for Benteke.
The pass was perfect and Benteke once again put himself in a great position, but unfortunately for United fans, his effort wasn’t enough to beat Coronel.
DC United was caught for one last goal deep into added time. They were pushing up trying to score, but the Red Bulls had the ball in their half and two quick passes later found John Tolkin sprinting into the box from the left unmarked.
As Tolkin received the ball, DC United’s Cristian Dajome ran after him like a man who just missed his local bus to work, but it was no use.
Tolkin stumbled into the box and put the ball away to make it 5-3.
United need to win their final 3 games to have a convincing chance at qualifying for the playoffs.