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November 4, 2012
Red Bulls draw at United, 1-1, return home for 2nd leg on Wednesday

Red Bulls goalkeeper Luis Robles saved Chris Pontius' penalty kick in the 33rd minute and made five saves.
Red Bulls goalkeeper Luis Robles saved Chris Pontius' penalty kick in the 33rd minute and made five saves.
Linda Cuttone/Sports Vue Images
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- A road tie was more like a victory for the Red Bulls in the opening game of their Eastern Conference playoff series with D.C. United on Saturday.

A pair of own goals resulted in a 1-1 draw between the two MLS teams in the first leg of the aggregate goals series at RFK Stadium.

With the second leg set for Red Bull Arena in Harrison, N.J. on Wednesday night, the Red Bulls have to feel confident that they can outscore United on their own ground.

"A tie away, it’s a good result for us,” Red Bulls coach Hans Backe said.

United was forced to play the final 19 minutes a man down after right back Andy Najar was given his marching orders for an ill-advised second yellow card.

Red Bulls goalkeeper Luis Robles made five saves, including a penalty kick, to keep his team in the match.

In a rather unusual twist of events during a four-minute span, the teams traded own goals, which was an MLS playoff first.

First, it was D.C.'s turn in the 61st minute as second-half substitute Roy Miller redirected a left-wing cross from Chris Korb that was intended for Nick DeLeon past his own goalkeeper Luis Robles for a 1-0 lead for the hosts.

“My gosh. I told Roy afterwards, ‘Hey, great finish, man.’ It was fantastic, upper ‘V,’ " Robles said. "But of course, he gave his heart out there and he tried everything and it just didn’t work out. But luckily we got that goal back.”

United gave the goal right back to the Red Bulls in the 65th minute. Thierry Henry curled a corner kick into the penalty area that defender Heath Pearce headed toward the net. Goalkeeper Bill Hamid got his hands on the ball and fell back into the net with the ball in tow for yet another own goal.

Hamid claimed that Red Bulls central defender Markus Holgersson, up for the corner, had fouled him.

"He knew I was going to jump. I was inside the six and he decided to bump me right before my jump. I guess that’s not a foul. I thought it was going to be called. I thought it was going to be a clear call. When the keeper comes out for the ball and he gets bumped that’s a foul, but it is what it is. I could have punched it. The smartest decision would have been to punch it once I felt the bump. I didn’t."

Najar, a Honduran international, was awarded a yellow card for fouling Joel Lindpere in the 71st minute. Najar threw the ball at referee Jair Marrufo and was immediately given a red card. He will miss the second leg.

In a surprising move, Backe decided to bench team-leading goal-scorer Kenny Cooper (18 goals) with his doppelganger, Sebastien Le Toux. Cooper was coming off a two-goal game as the MLS player of the week, but Backe wanted to get someone into the lineup who could stretch the D.C. defense.

"On the road, we chose Sebastien [Le Toux] because of his pace,” Backe said.

For most of the opening half, Le Toux did not accomplish what his coach had desired. Cooper eventually replaced Le Toux in the 80th minute.

The Red Bulls were fortunate to walk into the locker room with a scoreless halftime tie.

United dominated the first half, particularly the opening 15 minutes, but the hosts had nothing to show for their efforts.

They had a fabulous opportunity to take the lead in the 33rd minute after rookie right back was called for a handball in the penalty area a minute prior. Chris Pontius, who has been a major thorn in the Red Bulls side, launched his shot to the lower left corner, but Robles dived to deny the United midfielder.

"We knew in the last three penalty kicks, Pontius waited for the keeper to move and waited and waited," Robles said. "If you are a forward and waiting until the very last second for the goalkeeper to move, it kind of forces them to not shoot as low as they would like to and in that case I was fortunate.”

Robles was up to the task, stopping everything that was sent his way.

With the game only 92 seconds old, Robles denied a drive from left back Chris Korb, who blasted a shot from the upper left corner of the penalty area.

D.C. tried a "double header" to break through the New York defense in the 42nd as Pontius set up Branko Boskovic with a header. And while he looked to be offside, Boskovic tried a six-yard header that sailed wide right.

Henry said D.C. dominated “because they were rushing. I don’t know. They wanted to start well for the first 20 minutes. We knew they were going to come up in the beginning strong.”

The Red Bulls had no serious scoring chances. Henry took a pair of long-distance shots in the 29th and 44th minutes, but they wound got nowhere near the net.

While the Red Bulls were struggling up front, Backe decided to make a defensive substitution at the beginning of the second half as he replaced center back Rafa Marquez with left back Roy Miller. Pearce, who started the game at left back, moved into the central defender role.

Marquez, who was seen arguing with Backe as the teams left the field at halftime, was taken out as a precautionary measure due to calf tightness.

While the Red Bulls did not test Hamid very many times in the second half, they played better after the interval.

“They started very strong in the first 20-25 minutes," Backe said. "We just had to defend, defend all the time and they picked up some really good chances. When we started the second half, we bounced back in a much better way. We controlled the game – of course they got one sent off, and it made it quite easier for us to have possession.”
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