Last Wednesday, after forward Darren Mattocks scored the game-winning-goal against Minnesota, teammate Oniel Fisher gleefully did a mock interview of his Jamaican national teammate. The vibes of the room matched the recent upswing in points for a resilient United pushing toward a playoff spot.
The postgame atmosphere was different Sunday after a 3-3 draw with Atlantic Cup rival New York Red Bulls. United led on three separate occasions, but ultimately conceded each lead to the foot of goalscorer Bradley Wright-Philips.
“It feels similar to the game against New York City,” United captain Wayne Rooney said. “It feels like a defeat. On a positive note, we have played the top three teams in the league and none of them have beat us.”
After beating Atlanta and a pair of ties with both New York clubs in three of the last four matches, United (9-11-8) has just one game in hand and are four points behind the Montreal Impact in the sixth position.
“We are on the verge of a playoff spot. Today was a little bit of a setback,” Rooney said. “Sometimes you have to take the point and points add up at the end of the season.”
At the end of the first half, the two teams locked in a goal a piece. Midfielder Luciano Acosta boasted the most touches on the ball in the first half with 40 touches, two chances created and an assist.
In the 25th minute, Acosta sprinted toward the sideline to challenge Red Bulls defender Tim Parker. The 5-feet-3-inch playmaker won the duel and quickly switch the field to winger Paul Arriola, who finished the play with a goal. The assist was Acosta’s 13th of the season, and 29th of his three years at United. He is tied for fifth-most career assists of any United player.
“It is what he has been doing lately. He is the same handful throughout the game,” D.C. United coach Ben Olsen said. “Now he has added a maturity to his game defensively, sparked a good relationship with Wayne and now he is finishing out plays whether it is the final ball or getting goals himself.”
Just before halftime, the Red Bulls (17-7-5) won a free kick about 30-yard out. Acosta blocked the initial attempt, but Kaku collected the ricocheted ball and sent a pass across the goal to the head of Parker. Hamid misjudged the header, which allowed Wright-Phillips to net the first equalizer with a bicycle kick.
Fisher, who came in as a substitute, served a pass to the waiting Rooney, who volleyed in a goal in the 64th minute. Rooney almost had a second with a similar combination, but the final touch bounced off the crossbar.
While New York’s main worry defensively was stopping Rooney, United focused on shutting down BWP. First playing in a 3-5-2 formation and then a 4-2-3-1 with the addition of Fisher, Olsen adjusted to the defenders he had available.
“We wanted to throw them a little wrinkle. Fisher availability, we were sure we wanted to push him 90 minutes again,” Olsen said of the defensive shift. “It is something we will go back to if we need to if we think the game needs it.”
In the new formation, defender Frederic Brillant was responsible for marking Wright-Phillips, but when he left his mark, BWP opened up inside the box with two touches and a second equalizer in the 76th minute.
“[New York] is going to get chances and they are not going to swing it side to side. They are coming right down your throat,” Olsen said. “You have to, more than any other team, be on your toes at every moment.”
Sep 16, 2018; Washington, DC, USA; D.C. United forward Wayne Rooney (9) warms up before the game between the D.C. United and the New York Red Bulls at Audi Field. Mandatory Credit: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports
Three minutes from full time, Acosta responded to BWP’s second goal. This time the Argentine used teammate Yamil Asad for a quick give-and-go before chipping in the goal.
“I feel bad for him because it was such a great individual goal that deserved to be a winner,” Olsen said. “When you score three goals you should get three points.”
In the last minute of regulation, Wright-Phillips scored a one-touch goal to equalize for a third time.
“It stings a little bit,” Olsen said. “Bradley Wright-Phillips has been a thorn in our side for quite a while. He consistently saves them points.”
The tie is tough for a United team looking to grab the final spot in the 2018 MLS playoffs. United has a week off before a critical match against the team it is trying to leap in the standings.
“[The break] can work either way,” Rooney said. “We have had a lot of games recently … We will have a full week to prepare for the Montreal game.”
United hosts the Montreal Impact September 29 at 7 p.m., while the Red Bulls return home to take on Toronto FC next Saturday at 5 p.m.