Red Bulls Win Last Game at R.F.K.; Prepare for Chicago in Playoffs

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Red Bulls logoWASHINGTON — It was a meaningless game on a meaningful day for soccer in the nation’s capital.

D.C. United ended its long and often illustrious run at Robert F. Kennedy Stadium while the New York Red Bulls ended their long run to Major League Soccer’s postseason.

After a dreadful first half, New York scored twice in the second half to walk away with the Atlantic Cup and a 2-1 victory. The Red Bulls, the No. 6 seed in the Eastern Conference, will take Amtrak home and immediately begin preparations to face the Chicago Fire in the play-in game, on Wednesday night in Bridgeview, Ill. They could have faced any of four teams — Chicago, New York City FC, Atlanta or Columbus — and the opponent was not decided until NYCFC and Toronto each scored late to earn draws and settle the matchups (Atlanta will face Columbus). Toronto and NYCFC finished 1-2 and have first-round byes.

“Chicago won’t be easy,” Red Bulls Coach Jesse Marsch said. “They’re home with Dax [McCarty] and it’s going to be emotional. We know they’ll throw everything at us.”

McCarty, of course, was jettisoned by the Red Bulls in a trade last January, one which upset many of the club’s fans. But now, it’s obviously time to move on and prepare.

Five Red Bulls regulars stayed at home — Sacha Kljestan, Bradley Wright-Phillips, Daniel Royer, Damien Perrinelle and Aaron Long. The youngsters Sean Davis and Tyler Adams, along with the veteran Felipe Martins, began the match on the bench. Davis and Adams entered the match as substitutes in the second half.

But Marsch allowed goalkeeper Luis Robles to keep his consecutive starts streak alive, which is now 174 games.

“Actually, the quick turnaround is going to benefit us,” Marsch said. “We left a bunch of guys home to rest and it will give us a chance to fly at the next game, go after the game in a massive manner.”

Marsch said the team would train on Monday and travel either on Tuesday or Wednesday.

With Robles, the captain for the game, the only regular starter in the lineup, the Red Bulls were lethargic and largely loitered in the first 45 minutes. And they paid the price two minutes before halftime when Paul Arriola‘s skillful volley put D.C. up, 1-0, to the delight of the nostalgic and vocal crowd of 41,418.

But in the 68th minute, Panama’s international defender Michael Amir Murillo played a nice one-two passing combination with Muhamed Keita that let Murillo hit a gentle volley over goalkeeper Steve Clark.

“I don’t generally encourage our center backs to go forward like that,” Marsch said.

Seven minutes later, Vincent Bezecourt‘s neat backheel pass sent Connor Lade, an early sub for the injured Sal Zizzo, down the right flank. Lade’s cross eluded Clark and somehow made it way to Gonzalo Verón for an easy tap-in. Verón failed to give the Red Bulls an insurance goal when his penalty kick, after a hand ball by Jalen Robinson, was stopped by Clark, ending the Red Bulls’ string of seven PKs without a miss this year.

“This game was big for the group, because we didn’t start off so great in the game and we didn’t start the year great on the road,” Lade said. “Against Chicago, we know we’re in for a special game, but we feel we have a lot of momentum going.

“We know everything is on the line, there are no second chances.”

Asked about yet another game against the Fire and McCarty, Lade said: “Sure, there are going to be storylines, but for us it’s a minor part of our focus. It will be a bigger story in the media than in the locker room.”

D.C., which hosted a Legends Game that included many of the stars of the  club’s past — such as Marco Etcheverry, Jaime Moreno, John Harkes and Eddie Pope — before the match. At some point next season, the club will move into its new Audi Field. Also on hand was the team’s first coach, Bruce Arena, and first General Manager Kevin Payne.

“It was really cool to come and see all the fans, I think I had the same seat on the sideline back in the day,” said Marsch, who made 15 appearances for United in 1996 and 1997. “It was also cool to see all of the leaders of the club when it was the league’s first dynasty, Bruce, Dave Sarachan and Kevin Payne. To be here for this send off was special.”