Washington, D.C. – It was an eventful, yet ugly affair at RFK Stadium on Saturday as D.C. United and Red Bull New York opened their Eastern Conference playoff series with a 1-1 draw.
The match originally was scheduled to be held at Red Bull Arena, but the residual impact from Hurricane Sandy forced Major League Soccer to switch the location of the first leg to Washington.
The swap left many United supporters unhappy, claiming that the home field advantage earned by finishing the regular season in second place had been forfeited.
Given how Saturday's opening leg played out, New York's de facto home field advantage has only grown stronger.
Not only will the Red Bulls take an even aggregate score back to Red Bull Arena for the return match on Wednesday, but D.C. will be without budding star Andy Najar after the Honduran inexplicably earned himself two yellow cards mere seconds apart.
The match did start brightly for D.C. as it had a glorious opportunity to take the lead before the close of the first half. Red Bulls defender Connor Lade handled the ball in the box in the 32nd minute, but goalkeeper Luis Robles denied Chris Pontius on the ensuing penalty to keep the home side at bay.
United eventually got in front as Roy Miller inadvertently redirected a cross into his own goal in the 61st minute.
But D.C. gifted the visiting Red Bulls an equalizer four minutes later. Heath Pearce headed a corner kick back in front of goal and Bill Hamid fumbled the ball into his own net as he went to collect, stunning the 17,556 in attendance at RFK.
New York's advantage became even more evident in the 71st minute when Najar tripped up Joel Lindpere to deny the Estonian a chance at a quick counter- attack. The United defender was visibly frustrated as referee Jair Marrufo reached to his pocket, and Najar hurled the ball in the official's direction. It is unclear whether Najar intended to hit Marrufo with the ball, but the referee was left with no choice but to brandish a two yellow cards in quick succession.
The Red Bulls struggled to make anything of the extra man for the remainder of the match, but the bulk of the damage had been done.
The series shifts to Red Bull Arena level at a goal apiece, New York boasting home field advantage for extra time (if necessary) and D.C. losing a key player.