WASHINGTON—D.C. United had a handful of memorable comebacks during the regular season this year.
You can now add another.
Chris Rolfe overcame a missed penalty in the second half to score a late game winner as D.C. United defeated the New England Revolution, 2-1, in the first round of the 2015 MLS Playoffs on a wet and rainy Wednesday night in the nation’s capital. D.C. United must now wait until Thursday’s games to find out who they will be hosting this coming weekend.
The game wasn’t without controversy, though, as Revolution captain Jermaine Jones was sent off in the game’s waning moments for shouting at and shoving referee Mark Geiger after a missed handball call.
Juan Agudelo opened the scoring in spectacular fashion in the 15th minute with a superb overhead bicycle kick. Lee Nguyen had released Kevin Alston down the right side, and Alston’s cross at first appeared to be a little too high and behind the striker, who was waiting near left side of the goal. Agudelo adjusted himself just enough to try an audacious attempt, which he struck perfectly and into the back of the net.
The goal awoke both teams, and both D.C. United and the Revolution spent the next twenty five minutes furiously attacking the goal. Individual brilliance by Bobby Shuttleworth and Bill Hamid—as well as helpful play by the crossbar and post—kept it 1-0 to the Revolution, though both teams could have easily had five.
D.C. United coach Ben Olsen was quick to credit his goalkeeper for keeping his team in the game.
“I thought [goalkeeper Bill Hamid] really kept us in there early…when they were all over us,” Olsen said.
The Revolution were seconds away from going into halftime with a vital lead when Fabian Espindola was brought down just outside of the left side of the box. The ensuing free kick was met in the air by Chris Pontius and into the side of the net as Geiger called an end to a relentless first of action at 1-1.
“We have so many guys in this locker room with so much experience,” D.C. United captain Bobby Boswell said. “There aren’t a lot of situations we aren’t prepared for…we’ve been in situations this year when we’ve gone down a goal…we’ve been in these situations. Tonight was an example of using [this experience].”
“It was just like an old-fashioned New England-D.C. dogfight,” Olsen added. “But it was a great night for us. A gutsy performance for us.”
The second half began with both teams trying to slow play down and build possession from the back. Nick DeLeon’s shot in the 60th minute—which drifted just wide behind Shuttleworth—was either team’s first look at the goal after halftime.
D.C. United failed to capitalized on a golden opportunity in the 74th minute, when referee Geiger pointed to the spot after a handball by Scott Caldwell in the box. Chris Rolfe’s penalty was struck hard and low to Shuttleworth’s right, barely beating the outstretched keeper’s hand—but not the post. Rolfe watched as the ball rebounded back into play but couldn’t get a second chance before the ball was cleared.
Rolfe would find redemption ten minutes later with a side footed put away on a low cross from Fabian Espindola. Espindola found an opening down the left side of the box thanks to a clever back heel by Nick DeLeon.
“I just kept believing that I was going to get another chance,” Rolfe said. “And that I was going to score. I just cleared my head, and tried to stay optimistic.”
Controversy arose as the game wound to a close, as the ball appeared to strike D.C. United defender Sean Franklin’s arm in a manner very similar to Caldwell twenty minutes earlier. Geiger remained firm in his no-call, and Jones was ejected after appearing to shove Geiger and swat the red card he had just been shown out of the referee’s hand. Jones took a few minutes to finally leave the pitch, and the game ended shortly thereafter.
With the victory, D.C. United must now wait for tomorrow night’s all-Canadian match between the Montreal Impact and Toronto FC before they know whether their opponents will be Columbus Crew SC or New York Red Bulls for the home leg of this weekend’s conference semifinal.
Of course, Olsen and his players aren’t hoping for one team or another. At least publicly.
“I don’t care [who we play],” Olsen said. “I’ll just wait and enjoy the games, and see where we fall.”
“We beat New England,” Boswell added. “Now we have to get ready for whoever else we have to play.”