On a rainy night at RFK Stadium, DC United’s forward Chris Rolfe punches DCU ticket to the Eastern Conference Semifinals on Wednesday by scoring the winning goal at the 83rd minute. The Red and Black completed the comeback by defeating the New England Revolution 2-1.
It was a goal that involved three players in the buildup. DC’s midfielder Nick DeLeon started the play by bustling and slowly moving into the top of the penalty box. The Revs defense reacted cautiously to his movement as they kept taking a step back and giving DeLeon space to shot or pass.
Once inside the penalty box DeLeon stopped his movement and turned his back to the goal and waited for teammate Fabian Espindola to overlap him. New England’s defender Kevin Alston hesitated to make a decision and just kept moving back and forth instead. Espindola ran past his teammate, and DeLeon with all the time in the world back heeled the ball towards the end line.
Espindola caught up to the ball and the defense finally woke up as they began to chase him. However, they never caught up to him since he immediately centered the ball near the penalty spot. Rolfe ran to the spot and was left wide open to do what he pleased, but instead he blasted the ball into the back of the net to secure DC passage to the next round.
With that goal Rolfe erased his missed penalty that had just occurred less than 10 minutes before he won the game for DCU.
“I’m so happy for Chris [Rolfe] because he’s been our best player this year. To miss that and not redeem yourself, I know that would be painful for him,” DC’s head coach Ben Olsen said after the 2-1 comeback victory. “He put his head down and kept working. I’m happy he found the winner, I thought it was a great play.”
However, the game did not start well for the home team. The Revolution jumped ahead 1-0 with a sizzling bicycle kick from forward Juan Agudelo in the 15th minute. Revs playmaker Lee Nguyen started the play by sending Alston down the open right hand side of the field with a low pass. Alston did not waste any time for the DC defense to close his angle. Instead, the right back crossed the ball into the box where Agudelo was in the middle of two DCU defenders.
Agudelo had no space or time to control the ball and take a safer shot. So the U.S. international jumped in the air and extended his left leg as he prepared to fire the shot. With the back of his head facing the goal he blasted a shot into the top right hand corner to stun the Red and Black faithful.
After giving up that goal DC was in a state of shell-shock. In result, New England came close of doubling their lead just a minute later. Nguyen fired a shot from the top of the box, he shot was deflected but United was still in trouble. Revs midfielder Kelyn Rowe surprised everyone as he caught up to the bouncing ball in the heart of the penalty box.
He quickly blasted a powerful accurate shot that seemed destined to hit the back of the net with DC’s goalie Bill Hamid threw himself the wrong way. However, Hamid reaction was fast and clean, as he extended his left arm and smacked the ball out for a corner kick.
Rowe just stood there afterwards incomplete disbelief that his shot was saved. Hamid record his first of his three saves with that play. After Hamid miraculous save, DC began to show some life as their offense generated some chances.
In the first half, DCU created seven of their 14 opportunities and got four of their seven accurate shots on target. However, they did not break through till the 45th minute. Espindola took a set piece on the edge of the left hand side of the PK box. He delivered a wicked curving ball into the center of box, where midfielder Chris Pontius soared in the air and redirected the ball with his head to the right hand corner and leveled the match 1-1.
In the second half, it was clear that the momentum had changed towards DC’s favor and that the Revs were getting frustrated. As the rain continued the field got wetter and the ball began to move at a quicker pace, which meant the touches were not as clean for both sides.
However, that did not bother the Red and Black; they were quicker to loose balls as they won 51 duels and cleared the ball 35 times. New England just seemed to be a step slower to everything but fouling. There were 29 fouls in the match and the Revs committed 16 of them. Both clubs received two yellow cards a piece and the game had become a rugged mud fight.
Tempers really started to flare when DC was awarded a penalty kick due to a soft hand ball call from referee Mark Geiger in the 74nd minute. The Revs were furious on and off the field. However, they soon forgot when Rolfe missed.
However, a few minutes later Rolfe redeemed himself and scored the winning goal in the 83rd minute. He celebrated by running towards the corner flag with his hands in the air as he breathed a sigh of relief.
“I was actually pretty calm, and I just kept believing that I was going to get another chance and that I was going to score,” Rolfe said after the game about missing the penalty. “There was a split second there, maybe a minute or two, after the PK where it was running through my head and I was saying ‘Wow, it’s just one of those days, I don’t know what’s going to happen, I haven’t played 90 minutes in a long time and I don’t know if they’re going to take me out.’ I just cleared my head, tried to stay optimistic and kept making runs.”
From there the game only became worst for New England. First, Hamid stopped another close range shot in the 88th minute. A point blank header from U.S. international Jermaine Jones was heading into the roof of the net, but at the least second Hamid managed to send the ball safely over the crossbar. Jones displayed his frustration by kicking the advertisement board in front of him and screaming.
A few minutes later, Jones lost his head and was given his second yellow card and his marching orders in the 92nd minute. He was livid because Geiger missed a clear hand ball in the penalty box and let the play carry on. After that he took off and ran after the ref and got in his face and appeared to shove him and then pulled him back. Rowe was forced to restrain him because it was clear that Jones was only seeing red.
With that the heated Knockout match was over and DCU is moving on to the Conference Semifinals. Olsen was left admiring his players fighting spirit after the game, as this match reminded him of the 2004 Eastern Conference Final against New England that participated in.
“[The game] was like an old-fashioned New England/DC dogfight,” said Olsen. “It brought me back a little bit to the 2004 game. I don’t know if I’ve processed all of it. But certainly a gutsy performance from us, and a gutsy performance from them, too. That game in a lot of ways could have went to New England. I felt Bill [Hamid] really kept us in there during that couple-minute stretch where they were all over us. We obviously had two great chances with [Chris] Rolfe and [Fabian Espindola] in the first half. And the second half was again anybody’s game, but I thought we still were the better team.”
The Red and Black will now have to wait and see what happens with the Montreal Impact and Toronto FC match on Thursday. If TFC wins, then DC will face the Columbus Crew SC. However, if the Impact wins then they face the New York Red Bulls. No matter what happens though DCU will be hosting the first leg on November the first since they are the lower seed.